The head of Florida’s child welfare agency is now on the path to getting confirmed by the full Senate, after initial approval from a Senate panel this week.
Mike Carroll is the third Secretary of the Florida Department of Children and Families that Governor Rick Scott has appointed so far. The embattled agency has been dealing with a spate of child deaths that occurred under DCF’s supervision, including some high profile ones in recent months.
That includes the death of Phoebe Jonchuck, whose father is accused of throwing her over a bridge due to what appears to be a psychotic episode. Before her death, there were calls to DCF’s abuse hotline warning staff about the dad, but they went unheeded.
And, Carroll says he’s been working to turn the agency around, and for he and those he leads, it’s a tough job.
“It’s tough work and sometimes you have to have a tough skin to do it,” said Carroll, during the Senate hearing. “So, I’m excited by the opportunity to lead this agency. I’m excited about the direction we’re going in child welfare. Obviously, that’s our biggest challenge. If you’re the Secretary of the Department of Children and Families, the Albatross that you wear is child fatalities. And we do an awful lot of good work, but none of that comes to life because very often the topic is child fatalities.”
Carroll has also been in the process of continuing to implement a massive overhaul of the child welfare agency to help prevent further deaths, which includes a child death fatality website as well as a team tasked with investigating the deaths and see if a change in DCF policy is in store.
Just recently, Carroll announced the website will now include the reports of those teams called the Critical Incident Rapid Response Team, or CRRT teams. He also told the Senate Children, Families, and Elder Affairs Committee Thursday he’s working on another change.
“We’re also asking that the CRRT team, instead of doing an annual review, they push that up and do a quarterly reviews because I don’t want to wait 12 months to look at this data. We want to do it more rapidly. So, we’re going to do it on a quarterly basis and put that online. So, I think it’s a very comprehensive learning approach to the issue of child fatalities,” he added.
Still, Carroll got rave reviews from Senators, like Sen. Nancy Detert (R-Venice). She says since she and Sen. Eleanor Sobel (D-Hollywood) have been in the legislature on similar committees, they’ve probably seen at least six DCF Secretaries come through. And, she adds none of them fully understood how to do the job.
“And, we’ve seen different types, like you’d have someone who is too bureaucratic,” said Detert. “So, we need to get rid of them and get someone with a bigger heart. We had someone with the bigger heart. They didn’t understand the process. So, I think with your background that you’re a boots on the ground guy who’s been in the system for over 25 years, I think…for you to head the department, having worked through the system and even through the adoption process, you have the life experiences, the heart, and the credentials for the job.”
And, Carroll got a similar review from Senator Sobel, the panel’s chair.
“I like your attitude, you’re responsive, you’re transparent, you had that big spreadsheet for SB 1666—I’ve never seen anything like it—your experience, and you do communicate, which is really very important,” said Sobel. “One of the most important thing that you can do for Senators is to communicate what you’re doing, what you’re thinking, and you are always looking for solutions to very difficult problems. So, as you said, the journey is a long and winding road, and there’s lots of work to do, but I believe that you are up to the challenge.”
Florida Guardian ad Litem Executive Director Alan Abramowitz also lauded the new Secretary.
“We’re very fortunate to have Mike, and I know it’s very unusual being the Guardian ad Litem—often we’re fighting in court,” said Abramowitz. “We have some ugly battles going on…I think one in Tampa. But, I’ll tell to he always listens to me, and he understands, in the end, the judge makes the decision. And, I remember when the position became open, I called the Governor’s office and said, ‘Mike Carroll would be perfect for this. He has the whole package.’ So, I want to offer my support to Mike Carroll as well.”
Carroll thanked everyone for their support.
“I am not the smartest guy at the department. I am not even the smartest guy in this room, but I am smart enough to surround myself with the smartest folks, and I think…I won’t say for the first time…but, I have folks in substance abuse and child welfare experts that really are experts in what they do. The department is a big agency, and without the team that we have there, I wouldn’t be where I’m at,” said Carroll.
And, the Senate Children, Families, and Elder Affairs Committee voted to approve DCF Secretary Carroll as well as Agency for Persons with Disabilities Executive Director Barbara Palmer.
At the discretion of the Senate President, Carroll and Palmer’s confirmations will now either go to the Florida Elections Commission before heading to the full Senate or just go straight to the full Senate.
For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter: @SaschaCordner.