Interim DCF Chief Calls On Staff To Refocus; Child Advocates Say It”s A Start

By Sascha Cordner, WSFU
Published: Thursday, July 25, 2013

The new interim head of Florida’s child welfare agency is calling on her staff to refocus in the wake of the recent spate of child deaths associated with the agency. But, some child welfare advocates say there’s more work to do.

In recent weeks, there have been a handful of child deaths linked to the Florida Department of Children and Families and its investigators —the latest is a two-year-old who died over the weekend. The scandal has already caused former Secretary David Wilkins to step down and Esther Jacobo is now the new interim head. And, in a webcast Tuesday, Jacobo told a group of DCF staff it’s time the agency learned from these tragedies.

“So, I encourage you to refocus and look at all the things that we are doing. Every case must be the same importance as every other case on your caseloads. So, you must read every case as if it could be the next tragedy. And, this is not in order to—as they say in the vernacular—CYA. This is because it’s the right thing to do because each child and each family are counting on us to do that,” said Jacobo.

“Well, I think it’s a good place to start. I think there are some critical issues facing the agency at this point,” said Howard Talenfeld, the President of advocacy group Florida”s Children First.

Talenfeld says Jacobo needs to move the department back to being more transparent. And, he says it should start working with more community partners like it did before former Secretary Wilkins took the reins.

“And, if Secretary Jacobo can put this agency back on that track, that would be the first large step toward improving the system and the outcomes and safety for the foster care system,” added Talenfeld.

Talenfeld says he also applauds the efforts of Democratic Senator Eleanor Sobel of Hollywood, who he says will bring even more transparency to the child welfare agency. As the head of the Florida Senate Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee, Sobel is expected to hold a hearing on the child deaths in September.

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on twitter @SaschaCordner.

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Alexia Nechayev

FYS Events & Meeting Chair
(Palm Beach)

Hello, My name is Alexia Nechayev. I am 25 years old and I am an alumna of Florida International University where I received my B.A. in Psychology. My future career goal is to be a Lawyer. I was in care for about one year from age 17 to 18. Prior to entering care, I only knew about the negative stigma regarding foster care and while in care that narrative was unfortunately my experience.

In school I felt like I was on display because my status in care was broadcast to other students and in my placement behavior was leveraged for “privileges” that should be a natural right of all children. Because I did not know my rights I did not know that what I was experiencing was wrong. Today this is exactly why I advocate, because I don’t want this to be the same for other youth who are experiencing foster care.

This is my second year on the FYS Statewide Board and I’m happy to be the Events and Meetings Chair this year because my main goal through advocacy is to reach as many people as possible. My favorite thing as a board member is to see how comfortable members become while working together. The community needs to know that youth in foster care are real people, going through some of the hardest moments of their life and youth need to know that their voice is powerful. I believe that we have to speak up and bring these issues to people’s attention so that they do not forget us. Advocacy, education and consistency is the only way.

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