A group of current and former Alabama Department of Human Resources (DHR) employees sent an open letter to Gov. Kay Ivey about concerns with DHR leadership. Some of the problems, they said, have led to the death and abuse of children in DHR custody.
Accusations about DHR Commissioner Nancy Buckner range from abuse of children to workplace abuse among social workers.
"The Commissioner, three of her deputy commissioners and two of her directors are incompetent and incapable of doing their jobs," the letter stated. "They are vindictive, punitive and ineffective and manage through targeting, fear and intimidation. They have cost children their lives and affected the well-being of thousands of children and families. They have negatively effected [sic] the career of so many good social workers. They do not care about our children and their families. They do not care about the social workers. Hundreds of hard-working, family-focused social workers have walked away from jobs that they love because of these horrible management team. The folks in the highest level of management at OHR are not fit to lead. The few good social workers who stay suffer workplace abuse daily. This has to stop."
No specific examples of abuse or deaths were listed in the four-page letter.
The letter accused Buckner of losing sight of what her job is and putting nepotism over the needs of social workers. The letter stated she ignored the merit system by hiring "spouses and children of people she likes."
"While complaining to you and state legislators and the public 'that folks just don't want to work,' she tells her directors to fire hard-working folks who don't want to follow the rules and policies her and her incompetent teams make up as they go," the letter stated. "She advises her directors to tell folks who don't like it, 'They can leave!' She promotes those who will follow her blindly and join her with treating the social workers and directors with disrespect."
Of those promoted, the letter said many were part of a county program that experienced the tragic deaths of three foster children and a foster parent.
"They were all promoted to her management team after those tragedies, and since then, the agency, which was at thirty percent turnover, now has jumped to seventy percent turnover," the letter alleged. "These women were promoted even though they had less experience and terrible reputations. Every other applicant was more qualified. Their incompetence has cost even more lives, separation of siblings, destruction of families and millions of dollars."
The letter also said social workers were not adequately trained to accept child abuse and neglect reports. It said county-level workers cannot do anything about these problems because Buckner controls operations.
"The untrained social workers are completing investigations improperly, resulting in children losing their lives," the letter continued.
Buckner has been accused of requiring staff to stay overnight in DHR buildings with troubled children recently released from the Department of Youth Services of mental health facilities.
"These people have to serve our children especially those who have mental health issues and disorders," the letter stated. "The working conditions for staff members is deplorable."
According to records, Buckner's salary was $186,237 in 2022.
The average salary among all 4,754 employees was $40,561, 13% lower than many other Human Resources departments nationwide. Workers said they could not get second jobs because of the difficult on-call schedule.
The letter stated that some children are sleeping in DHR offices, not getting food or proper clothing, and not receiving adequate health care.
"You have the power to stop it Governor," the letter ends. "Things will not get better unless you intervene. You have the power to change this. You have the power to positively change lives. Our children and their futures are too important. The future of Alabama is at stake.
"The lives of the children families and vulnerable adults and the elderly are in your hands. Please help us. Please help them!"
Ivey's office has not responded to a media request for comment.
The open letter can be read in its entirety below.
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