New social services director anticipates challenges

Prince William County’s new director of the Department of Social Services said he feels he walked into a well-run organization.

“This department is in very good shape. The county is a model of good management,” said A. Keith Sykes, the new head of social services.

Sykes described becoming the director of the department as “an attractive job opportunity.”

Sykes replaced Ric Perez, who retired. Sykes has been on the job for about three weeks.

“After an intensive search, the Board of Social Services is pleased to unanimously select Keith Sykes as our new director,” said Barbara DeChene, chairwoman of the county social services board. “We feel Mr. Sykes brings a wealth of talent and expertise to our organization and the board looks forward to our work together.”

Most recently, Sykes worked as the co-founder and director of Square One in the Hampton Roads area. Square One, which serves 17 localities, is a regional reading-readiness program for children entering kindergarten.

Sykes also worked for the Hampton City Department of Social Services as division chief of family and children’s services.

In the time Sykes has been on the job in Prince William, he said he has been getting to know the department’s 350 employees.

“The county staff and the our staff are very receptive and positive,” Sykes said.

The biggest challenge Sykes said he faces is one felt throughout the state anticipated cuts in state funding.

“We’ve gotten preliminary numbers of next year’s budget and it’s likely to get worse,” Sykes said.

While social services departments have been told to expect at least a 3 percent reduction in funding, Sykes said by the time the budget makes its way through the Virginia General Assembly, the cuts are likely to be even greater.

“This is something we’ve got to deal with. We’re going to have to keep our eye on Richmond,” Sykes said.

The department already has in place policies that call for a “budget congress” of employees to convene. It has been examining the upcoming year’s funding sources and prioritizing areas that could be cut if necessary.

“This is a good example of the way this department has been led,” Sykes said.

The department does not rely solely on state money. It also is funded by the county and the federal government for various programs.

Social Services helps community residents in four areas: residential services, financial and employment services, services for families and children, and services to the elderly and disabled adults.

Sykes’ annual salary will be $100,329.

Staff writer Aileen M. Streng can be reached at (703) 878-8010.

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