DES MOINES, Iowa — The governor has appointed a law professor with experience in child protection and family law to lead the troubled Iowa Human Services Department.

Gov. Kim Reynolds said in a news release Wednesday that 64-year-old Jerry Foxhoven will begin work Thursday as the department director. He replaces Charles Palmer, who announced his retirement last month.

The department has been scrutinized for months over its handling of child abuse cases, particularly cases involving the deaths of two teenage girls. The department also has been criticized for privatizing the state’s Medicaid health care program for the poor and disabled.

Foxhoven has been an administrator for the Iowa Child Advocacy Board and director of the Joan & Lyle Middleton Center for Children’s Rights. He’s been a Drake University Law School professor since 2006.