In all due respect to Madame Secretary Esther Jacobo, the troubles DCF is experiencing was self-inflicted. The minute the State of Florida decided to run its child welfare agency as a business, it was forever doomed. Look at its former secretary: no field experience whatsoever, never been on a child abuse investigation or worked a foster care case, never removed a child from a parent’s arms or has ever felt the pressure of having to close case-after-case while making life-altering decisions on a daily basis. Before his appointment to secretary of DCF by Governor Rick Scott, David Wilkins was a business guy who worked as a finance director at a non-profit, and retired as a sales director for Accenture Health and Public Service business. When he came in he advocated for more funding for this agency, but he was numbers and performance driven. Safety is great but statistics and performance cannot be compromised.
A DCF child abuse investigation needs to be closed in 60-days–period! What happens when a child safety worker receives a healthy helping of complex cases on a weekly basis? Cases involving multiple priors, young parents with no supports, homelessness, substance abuse issues, domestic violence. These cases involve a collaborative effort from DCF and its community partners (substance abuse and mental health providers, schools and law enforcement). But what happens when these parties cannot service these families in 60-days? Child Protective Investigators can’t tell their supervisors, “I’ll need another day or two to close this one.” The worker and the supervisor will be labeled ineffective. During the Wilkins era, even the tools this agency used to gauge risk and safety to a child was altered to minimize the risk to children. But those who’ve been in the field know, regardless of how you say it or how your word it, some children cannot remain safe in the homes of their parents or caregivers. For other investigators, they close their cases and continue in their quest to find alternative work.
When Secretary Jacobo mentions how it needs a new Safety Methodology to improve its worker’s decision making, its laughable. Workers are not the problem; DCF’s system in handling child abuse/neglect cases is the problem. Child safety workers know the volatility of these cases, but when these cases are being heaped on you with an added pressure of closing them in a 60-day window, what do you do? When a child dies, the child protective investigator and her supervisor get fired– nobody else, even though a cadre professionals were involved in the direction of this case. Isn’t this the problem? Blame a few to divert people’s attention from the real vulnerabilities of this broken system. I suspect the public is now aware of this dysfunction in our child welfare system. Each time DCF is mentioned in the news, we grow to respect it less-and-less.