Florida's Children First

DCF secretary promises changes after child murder

The secretary of Florida’s Department of Children and Families promised swift changes Monday in how the agency responds to potential child abuse cases, but Mike Carroll said he’s not sure if the changes would have saved Phoebe Jonchuck’s life.

The 5-year-old child was dropped to her death last week from the Misener Bridge in St. Petersburg by her father, John Jonchuck, 25, police said.

“I was sick to my stomach,” Carroll said. “I’m angry and frustrated that we can’t better protect kids.”

See our full interview with DCF Secretary Mike Carroll in the media player above.

Carroll announced that DCF will respond faster to calls in which kids’ lives may be in danger. Instead of the usual 24 hour response time by child welfare agents, they’re required to respond in four hours.

The secretary said he’s assembled a Critical Incident Response Team consisting of child welfare experts, law enforcement, and educators that will review the Jonchuck case and report back in 30 days.

One issue under review is a complaint from Jonchuck’s attorney who warned DCF about her client’s unusual behavior and the possibility of hurting his own child.

Hillsborough County deputies responded but opted not to hospitalize Jonchuck for mental evaluation or arrest him.

Carroll didn’t blame the deputies for their actions but instead pointed the finger at his own agency.

“The buck will always stop with the Department of Children and Families on a child welfare case,” Carroll said.

The secretary said if child welfare agents had responded quickly to Jonchuck’s case, he couldn’t predict whether Phoebe would have survived.

“I don’t know whether we would have even located him,” Carroll said. “But I know this, I would rather have that protocol in place than not.”

The DCF secretary said the issue is complicated, and that people should not expect the problems to be solved overnight.

¬†“I can tell you systemically that this is not an issue that the Department of Children and Families is going to fix all by ourselves,” Carroll said.

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