Beginning her career as a child protection worker, Alisha Griffin went on to earn a master’s degree in community and clinical psychology. After spending several years in the New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services, eventually as director of the Office of Case Practice, Emergency Response and Critical Incidents, she was then tapped to work a year in the state’s Child Support Services Department to help meet the mandates of 1996 Welfare Reform legislation.
She fell in love with the work and stayed on.
“It’s really a front-focused, family program. To me, it’s always been primarily a prevention program. You just know that if you can solve the differences between families and get them to support their children … it’s a great cost avoidance,” she said.
All told, she spent more than 16 years at the Department of Child Support Services in New Jersey, deeply invested in its mission to help families. But when the 1980s-era child support system needed replacement, Griffin’s role took a distinct turn toward the technical.
“We expected to get new staff positions to man it, but we didn’t,” Griffin said, adding that she found herself heavily involved in the
technical aspects of the new system. The pioneering effort comprised the design, procurement, implementation and management of the country’s first attempt at a redesigned system for child support. Along the way, Griffin was able to shore up collections and disbursement processes, improve customer service and institute performance measurements to maximize efficiency.
It became a national model, and in 2014, California Gov. Jerry Brown lured Griffin to the West Coast for a similar overhaul, albeit for a much larger population. Along with more people came additional complexities, like working with California’s 58 counties, compared with New Jersey’s 21, getting them on board with new tools that sometimes turn old processes on their heads. She’s been at the forefront of new thinking on modernization that favors modular, or agile approaches, over traditional processes.
“Let’s not build antiquated systems,” Griffin said. “We all live our lives with smartphones or tablets and we hang apps together. And I think that that’s the new methodology.”