He was appointed to the job on an interim basis by then-Gov. Nathan Deal in July 2018 and tapped as the permanent leader by Kemp in February 2019. He was previously the director of the Office of Child Advocate under Deal.
“I was privileged to work with Governor Deal and Governor Kemp and a very passionate front-line staff,” he said. “It was a very stressful job and it was time for me to go.”
Melissa Carter, the director of the Barton Child Law and Policy Center at Emory who often works with DFCS, said the agency employees she’s spoken with are anxious about the transition.
“Leadership transitions inherently create a lot of uncertainty and instability,” Carter said. “The workforce is generally not familiar with Candice, which means that most folks are distracted right now and preoccupied with the speculation about her leadership direction. That can create a distraction from the work.”
State Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver, a Decatur Democrat and longtime child welfare advocate, said she believed Rawlings’ departure will harm “tens of thousands of Georgia’s most vulnerable children.” She said an altercation with a film crew shouldn’t have led to his departure.
“Our caseworkers have the hardest job in government, and Tom gave them what they needed,” she said.
The task of leading the agency of more than 8,000 employees is one of the most difficult in state government, and a revolving door of officials have been appointed to the job since the 1990s. Some resigned amid fallout over the death of children under the agency’s oversight.
Rawlings’ roughly three-year tenure also involved backlash over the deaths of two children in South Georgia who had extensive histories with the agency.
He also grappled with budget cuts, a surge in demand for the food stamp program and a pandemic that led to a rise in cases of suspected abuse and neglect.
The agency plays an important role in Kemp’s plan to extend the Medicaid program without embracing a full expansion. Under a state contract, DFCS determines who is eligible for Medicaid benefits and would be critical to a new waiver proposal that Kemp is pushing.
Rawlings said he hoped his record at the agency improved the “culture and the environment” of the bureaucracy.
“I worked to stabilize the agency and established partnerships with the community,” he said. “I’m proud of my work.”