County of Santa Clara logoThe County of Santa Clara has appointed a new director of its Social Services Agency (SSA), which provides safety net services for some of the county’s most vulnerable community members. Starting May 1, Daniel Little, a longtime leader in child welfare, will run the SSA’s gamut of services addressing child welfare and care for aging adults, along with job training, youth outreach, and ensuring at-risk residents are connected to critical health, nutrition, and financial services programs.

“The SSA is one of our largest and most impactful agencies in the County administration, so we have put a lot of resources and thought into finding the right person who can continue this critical work for our community,” said County Executive Jeffrey V. Smith, M.D., J.D. “We need a leader who understands and sees the strength in people and families. We also need an innovator with a scientific mindset and the policy expertise to solve deep-rooted inequities that exist in our systems. Daniel Little is that person.”

Mr. Little was chosen after an extensive nationwide search and will succeed Interim SSA Director Debra Porchia-Usher, who will retire at the end of April. Ms. Porchia-Usher lauded Mr. Little’s two decades of experience as an innovative leader who is well known in the community and is a statewide leader in child welfare.

“Daniel’s results-driven efforts have greatly reduced the number of children in foster care and improved the lives of families, because their needs are better met in their homes and communities,” said Ms. Porchia-Usher. “He is a visionary leader and his experience with social services programs in multiple jurisdictions and, more recently as Director for Family and Children’s Services, will ensure that this important work and our culture of innovation continues throughout the Social Services Agency.”

Mr. Little joined the County’s SSA Department of Family and Children’s Services (DFCS) in 2017 and has served as director of DFCS since 2019. Under his leadership, Santa Clara County transitioned out of the use of group homes, work that was recently highlighted by national child welfare advocates. Mr. Little’s approach has been to follow evidence-based practices that protect children. His work on recognizing the impact of child separation has helped shift the model of social services to focus on the power of supporting and healing families while ensuring children are safe and thriving. In his time with DFCS, one of Mr. Little’s main goals has also been to reduce inequities in the system, evident in his work developing the DFCS Race Equity Agency Leadership (REAL) team.

“The work of the Social Services Agency is vital to the County’s overall safety net and one of our most important missions is to protect our more vulnerable community members,” said Mr. Little. “This has been a rewarding experience and I am very honored to continue and expand this work as the next SSA director. I’m excited to continue building out an integrated and healing continuum of care to improve the lives of children, adults, and families.”

Mr. Little praised the work of his predecessor for her long and distinguished career in social services, successfully leading multiple major agencies across the country. Since Ms. Porchia-Usher joined the County as chief deputy director of SSA in 2016, she has helped oversee numerous valuable SSA initiatives to better serve at-risk youth and older adults, enhanced outreach for benefits such as CalFresh, and embedded better navigation and support services throughout department programs. Her leadership also helped the County transition to a new automated welfare eligibility system and to establish the SSA equity, diversity, and inclusion office. As SSA director, Mr. Little will oversee an agency with more than 3,000 employees and an annual budget over $1 billion.

“I am thankful for having the opportunity to serve the Santa Clara County community,” Ms. Porchia-Usher said. “I am confident that this important work will be in good hands, and that Daniel will guide the agency in a manner to prepare it for the future.”

Prior to joining the County in 2017, Mr. Little served as director of permanency for the Nebraska Families Collaborative, a large non-profit organization offering guardianship, respite care, family support, foster, kinship, and other critical services for abused or neglected children. His child welfare background includes experience in several states, across both the public and non-profit sectors, in roles ranging from case manager to director of family services.

Mr. Little received his bachelor’s degree in Anthropology and master’s degree in Social Work from Wichita State University. He and his wife of 23 years have a daughter, who is studying theatre in London. Daniel enjoys walks with his Australian Cattle dog and riding his mountain bike.