Ben J. Kelley

Passionate advocate for reform to better serve families

Ben J. Kelley, MSW, has made immense and long-lasting contributions to the profession of Social Work and the field of Public Human Services. His passion for reform to better serve adults and families in his human services agencies was evident throughout his career. Kelley received his BSW at University of California, Berkeley and his MSW at San Diego State.

The list of reforms Kelley pioneered is long. He was instrumental in advocating for changes in the Federal “100 hour work rule” that disadvantaged two-parent working families. He proposed major changes in the California Medi-Cal program to improve services for families and individuals. Even reforms at a local level such as expanded agency hours to improve responsiveness to clients, inclusion of parents in decision-making in child welfare cases, and establishing liaison positions to respond quickly to foster parent needs, all reflected his belief that a public agency should serve the community and not itself.

Kelley was Director of the Fresno County Department of Social Services from 1977-1988. Prior to going to Fresno County, he had already established a reputation as a reformer while serving as an administrator in San Diego County. This reputation resonated with the Fresno County Board of Supervisors who felt change in public human services was desperately needed.

After beginning his tenure as Director of Fresno County Department of Social Services, he was immediately recognized by his peers as a leader, innovator and reform advocate. This recognition led to his election as President of the California Welfare Directors Association in 1978.

Always a believer in the power of a strong relationship between the public sector and education, he established a full-time liaison position between Fresno County Social Services Agency and the CSU, Fresno Department of Social Work. Knowing that reform would be enhanced by professionalizing his staff, he fully supported employee efforts to pursue MSW degrees and took advantage of the Title XX Program stipends available at the time. Prior to his arrival in Fresno, the entire Central Valley region had only six MSW professionals in Child Welfare Services. Because of his leadership, more than 30 child welfare staff from Fresno County alone successfully completed the MSW program during his tenure as director. After retirement, Kelley served as an Adjunct Professor at CSU, Fresno for several years.

Ben J. Kelley truly has had a lasting impact on shaping public human services in the Central California region. Although retired for many years, current directors frequently refer to him and his ideas as they advocate for reform.

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