Children and Families: New Leader A Wise Choice (Editorial)
The last thing Florida’s troubled Department of Children and Families needed was its third change in leadership in less than a year. That said, Gov. Rick Scott appears to have chosen wisely in naming veteran DCF official Mike Carroll as interim secretary.
Scott announced Monday that Carroll, managing director of the DCF region that runs from Manatee County down into Charlotte County, would succeed interim secretary Esther Jacobo.
Jacobo, formerly the DCF’s top Miami manager, previously had stated her intention to leave the agency for a position with the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office at the end of the legislative session.
She was appointed the DCF interim leader last July following the abrupt resignation of secretary David Wilkins in the wake of reports linking multiple deaths of children to failures by the agency.
A Miami Herald series in March documented the deaths of 477 children since 2008 whose families had past dealings with the DCF.
REPUTATION FOR OPENNESS
Carroll takes over an agency still reeling from those revelations and from a blistering report last November by the respected Casey Family Programs.
The Casey review, which Jacobo requested, severely criticized the DCF from top to bottom — from poor supervision and legal services to abysmal training and oversight by investigators and caseworkers.
Carroll, a 24-year veteran of the DCF who began as an entry-level worker, “has a reputation for openness and strong organizational skills,” said the Tampa Bay Times.
Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualteri, whose department is one of six sheriff’s offices hired by the DCF to handle child-abuse investigations, told the Times that Carroll has “a good working relationship with our staff and the other sheriffs. I’m very optimistic.”
George Sheldon, a respected former DCF secretary who promoted Carroll to his regional manager’s position, praised Scott’s decision. Carroll “knows the department and he’s a common sense kind of guy,” Sheldon said.
Last year, Carroll initiated a program in this region, called Rapid Safety Feedback, to help flag factors that could threaten the safety of children under DCF supervision.
Carroll will need all his skills and initiative as he oversees major changes at the agency that are expected to be approved by the Legislature.
The Florida Senate last week unanimously passed a sweeping overhaul of the DCF, appropriating $47 million for provisions that include hiring 200 new investigators and mandating that child safety should take precedence over family unification.
The bill requires the DCF to conduct immediate investigations of child deaths, improve training of investigators who handle calls on the state’s abuse hotline, and provide incentives — such as loan forgiveness and tuition assistance — to encourage case workers to obtain professional degrees.
Many of the provisions have already been approved by the House and approval of the bill is expected in that chamber. Scott, who has endorsed additional funding for the DCF, is expected to sign the bill into law.
CHANGES MUST BE THOROUGH
The question is whether the legislation, while extensive, does enough to bring about the reforms needed at the DCF.
Child advocates note that the Legislature slashed DCF funding during the recession by almost $80 million from 2005 levels.
The new bill targets only $5 million to provide substance-abuse treatment for at-risk families with young children. Yet the Miami Herald investigation found that, of the 477 child deaths, more than 80 percent involved substance abuse or mental health issues.
It will be up to Carroll, who’s expected to serve as interim secretary at least through the November elections, to incorporate the overhaul while leading an agency constantly buffeted by bad news and high expectations.
He deserves the support of the governor and the child-welfare community for taking on this difficult challenge.