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Mar 30, 2012

Florida’s Department of Children and Families was making lots of news this week.  In the past, such a statement might be the lead-in to a negative story about the department.  But Tom Flanigan reports that was not the case this time…..

The sun is shining and the birds are singing as a crowd gathers near the picturesque pond in the middle of the Florida Department of Children and Families headquarters office complex in Tallahassee.  Much of the crowd is made up of local kindergarten children.  They’re entranced by costumed characters acting out the story of the three little pigs.  The performance has a modern twist in the plotline as the Big Bad Wolf is also a Big Bad Bully….

The pigs band together to resist the wolf’s attacks and eventually all four go skipping off down the path while the kids cheer and wave pinwheels.  The pinwheels are part of the “Pinwheels for Prevention” campaign D-C-F conducts each year.   The purpose is always the prevention of child abuse, but this year, the campaign is focused on bullying.  One of the partners in that effort is the organization Family First, where Bryan Davis is director of content…

“I have three children; love them very, very much.  You know, they’re going to get picked on.  That’s just a part of life, of growing up.  But when it starts to get out of hand, we parents really need to be that barrier to help protect them.”

Especially because, says Florida Kiwanis Governor Eddie Lee, because the problem is so widespread….

“As many as 160,000 students across America stay home on any given day because they are afraid of being bullied.  Most children who are bullied will never talk to an adult about their experiences and neither adults nor peers intervene in 85-percent of the bullying incidences.”

For many years, the problem wasn’t even acknowledged.  But that’s changed, especially in the wake of some tragic youthful suicides prompted by bullying.  Now there’s a hard-hitting movie out on the topic.  And Florida Department of Children and Families Secretary David Wilkens says it’s just the right time to kick the awareness level up another notch….

“Bullying is also a key concept where others can learn and others can help in bullying because bullying is something that is very observable from friends and family and that type of thing.  So it just seemed like a good natural topic to add to the overall prevention agenda, just from an awareness perspective.”

Wilkens is also looking to prevent something else.  That’s the impersonation of DCF caseworkers by scammers and others who are up to no good….

“Over the last year, we’ve had numerous instances of individuals impersonating investigators, whether that was by phone or actually even going to peoples’ houses and saying they’re investigators.”

So Wilkens says all investigators are receiving new, hi-tech ID cards….

“It has the seal, so it’s not an easily replicatable credential from an amateur from that perspective.  Obviously it has the photo of the individual and then on the back you can see the device that sends you straight to our web site for access so you can confirm that, as well, of course, as the phone number.”

Someone who’s trading in his Department of Children and Families I-D card for one issued by the Florida Department of Management Services is Scott Stewart.  He’s been DCF’s assistant secretary for operations.  Now Governor Scott has named Stewart interim secretary at DMS.  Wilkens thinks it’s a good move…

“You know, I’m excited about Scott having the opportunity to be the interim secretary.  He has been a key leader in most – or actually all – of all the major change programs we’ve implemented at DCF and so he knows how to implement change programs and he’s got the right skill set.  He’s also worked in state government for years.”

Stewart’s appointment comes a few days after Wilkens saw his job description change somewhat.  Governor Scott gave him the additional title of “chief operating officer” for those agencies that fall under the governor’s oversight.  As such, Wilkens is tasked with bringing more efficiency and cost-savings to those agencies.  Something he sees himself doing in concert with a much more proactive Department of Management Services under Stewart…

“Oh, absolutely both in my role as COO I’m going to need DMS to really step up to drive some of these big change programs and so they’re going to play a very integral role in a lot of these programs and Scott knows my style and we work well together.”

It was a big week at the Florida Department of Children and Families.  Its go-go Secretary David Wilkens suggests there will be more big news on the way before too long.