Shelly Neal-Edwards new DSS Director

By PETER HECK  |  Feb 15, 2017

Shelly Neal-Edwards is the new director of the Kent County Department of Social Services, located at 350 High St., Chestertown.

CHESTERTOWN — Shelly Neal-Edwards, director of the Kent County Department of Social Services since Jan. 4, should be a familiar face to many in the local community.

“I was born in the Chestertown hospital,” she said in an interview Monday. Her parents, Joe and Vicky Neal, still live in the community, she said. And living nearby in Queen Anne’s County, she frequently brings her three children to Chestertown for a variety of events.

Neal-Edwards graduated from Kent County High School, after which she earned her bachelor’s degree at Salisbury University, followed by a master’s at the University of Maryland at Baltimore School of Social Work. Both degrees were in social work.

“I spent most of my career in Queen Anne’s County,” Neal-Edwards said. She worked with the county’s Adult Day Care program, the Department of Social Services and, for the last 14 years, as director of the Healthy Families home visiting program housed at the Queen Anne’s Health Department. The latter, a grant-funded program under the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, originally served Queen Anne’s and Talbot counties. Under her directorship, it expanded to include Kent and Caroline counties.

With that program, she said, “I worked a lot with managing a fairly large budget. I did lots of grant writing and I managed the staff. In addition, I worked in emergency preparedness and assisted with adult evaluation review services.

“I’ve always loved social services — the various programs from pregnancy all the way through adulthood,” she said. “I’ve worked closely with the Kent County Department of Social Services, and Queen Anne’s, Talbot and Caroline when we received a few grants from them for Healthy Families. I decided that I wanted to use my skills that I gained in these programs to do something bigger.”

Neal-Edwards said she was “really excited” to return to the community where she was born. “I’ve always had Kent County in my heart,” she said. She said it was especially gratifying to be working with people she went to school with or worked with in other positions.

As far as her new responsibilities, she said one of her first big tasks would be obtaining accreditation for the Kent County Department of Social Services. “We are working toward that to show the community that we work under the best standard practices. I believe we do, and it’s going to be easy and great, because the staff really works hard, and they are dedicated.”

Neal-Edwards said she was excited by the state’s “alternative response” approach to low-risk reports of child neglect or abuse, which she said was the biggest change since her previous experience in the field. In these cases, Social Services works with a family to solve its problems without the threat of formal charges or findings. “More than half our reports went to that response last year, which is really good,” she said. “It’s been very successful. Last year they deterred 41 children from being placed out of their homes, so that’s a really big accomplishment.”

She said Social Services has done nearly 1,200 home energy assistance applications in Kent County. Social Services also helped 22 families to avoid eviction and assisted nearly 70 individuals in finding jobs. The department has collected more than $1.8 million for child support, she said.

She said anyone interested in the department’s services can come into the office and case workers will help them find out what they are eligible for. “If we cannot help, we refer families to places that can,” she said.

“My goal is for this agency to provide proficient services and high-quality services and respect to all the people who walk through the door,” she said.

She credited her assistant director, Kathy Nolan, with helping her get acquainted with the agency and its programs. “She has really helped me to understand everything I need to know and then some,” she said.

“I think this is a great agency. All of the staff are very dedicated to this county, to helping people in Kent County,” she said. “I’m lucky to be able to tap into their resources to kind of get me up to speed.”

Filed in: DHS News, Employee News, In this County, Kent County

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