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Black Leaders Shaping the Future of Behavioral Health: Dawn Holden Woods, MPA

Feb 2, 2021

What does Black history mean to me?

It matters that the history of Black and Brown people be recognized. Not only does that validate our experience to those who would stifle or deny it, it validates who we are and who we can be as a community. There’s an adage: “If you can’t see it, you can’t be it.” I think back to when I was first elevated to the position of CEO of Turning Points for Children and how many Black and Brown staff members celebrated my appointment as a cultural achievement because many of them had never seen it before.

Knowing their history allows Black and Brown people to believe in themselves and their community despite all the negative energy directed to people of color by the majority since we were first brought to America. It’s empowering and exciting to have a month-long celebration of who we are, and to be able to have the important corrective conversations about what our experience has really been and what it is today.

How does Black History inform my practice?

As a double minority, both a woman and a Black woman, I have lived experience with being disenfranchised and marginalized, and that has sensitized me to the fact that so many Americans are treated the same way.

While in graduate school, I learned from my work that over 1,000 youth in Philadelphia age out of the foster care system every year and that at least a third of them do so without the basics for living on their own. Overwhelmingly, these youth were people of color, with no place to live, no jobs, no plan for success. They were the ones on the street, couch surfing, many hiding in plain sight. Knowing our history led me to believe that this was a problem we could solve.

I was able to connect our organization to Youth Villages, a national non-profit in Memphis, Tennessee that agreed to let us replicate an evidence-based youth-driven program called LifeSet to help these young people. We’ve had tremendous outcomes with over 90% success rate in many of our core areas of focus.

We can’t have a candid discussion about Black history without addressing racism, criminal justice reform, health disparities, educational inequities, and low incomes. As the Chief Social Services Officer at Public Health Management Corporation, I’m particularly encouraged by our corporate position, that racism is a public health crisis. As we work to address these inequities and remain agents of change, I look forward to building on a proud but unfinished legacy.

Dawn Holden Woods is Chief Social Services Officer and oversees PHMC subsidiaries Turning Points for Children and The Bridge, PHMC’s Health Promotion Services group, PHMC subsidiary Health Promotion Council and PHMC’s Research and Evaluation Group.

Dawn previously served as Managing Director, Children and Family Social Services for PHMC and Chief Executive Officer of Turning Points for Children. With Dawn’s leadership, Turning Points for Children has grown to be one of the largest social services agencies in the region and includes PHMC subsidiary The Bridge. Four Community Umbrella Agencies (CUAs) also fall under Turning Points for Children as part of the Department of Human Services’ Improving Outcomes for Children initiative, which is responsible for the safety, well-being, and permanency of more than 5,500 children and their families.

Dawn is the recipient of many awards and honors, including the Philadelphia Business Journal’s Top Minority Business Leaders for 2020, the Philadelphia Business Journal’s 40 under 40, and Nonprofit CFO of the year. She is board member of the National Council on Crime and Delinquency, The Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce and The Committee of Seventy, and a member of the Rho Theta Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. While no longer practicing, Dawn is a Certified Public Accountant. She holds a master’s degree in Public Administration from the University of Pennsylvania and a bachelor’s degree in Accounting from Lincoln University of Pennsylvania.

Resources Highlighting Dawn Holden Woods’ Work

Fixing The Problems We Can Fix, a feature from The Philadelphia Citizen,  highlighting programming at initiated by Dawn and her efforts to ensure youth are provided with the things they needed when they leave the foster care system, including a voice in their path and dedicated specialists to support them along the way.

Billy Penn article notes the support of a first-of-its-kind legislation to provide $500 foster care tax credit and a $1,000 adoption tax credit for families who provide permanency to children in the care of Pennsylvania’s Department of Human Services.