The former head of Florida’s juvenile justice system has a new job. After four years at the helm of DJJ, Christy Daly left her post at the end of last month. The following is some of the highs and lows of her tenure.
Since 2006, Daly served the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice in different capacities. It included a stint as the Deputy DJJ Secretary under Wansley Walters.
Then, when Walters left in 2014, Daly took over the department’s top job as Secretary.
“We have made tremendous strides,” she said, speaking to lawmakers last year. “We have 60 percent less low and moderate and risk kids going to our commitment programs. We are at the lowest juvenile arrest rate in over 50 years in this state. We have the lowest recidivism for kids that are treated on probation in the community, and I will tell you the decrease for residential for those low and moderate and risk kids…those kids are the ones that are in the community that are having better outcomes, as a result now.”
In addition to her job as DJJ Secretary, Daly also sat on several panels. They included the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission, which is tasked with looking into the failings of what led up to the mass school shooting in Parkland. There’s also the Statewide Human Trafficking Council.
Then, there’s the Florida Children and Youth Cabinet. That was chaired by Daly’s former boss Wansley Walters.
“From someone who’s walked a little but in those shoes, I can tell you that she’s done an amazing job,” said Walters, during a meeting last month. “She has increased the research and the data utilization in order to improve the outcomes.”
Walters also commended Daly for working very well with the Florida Department of Children and Families to serve youth in both the juvenile justice and child welfare systems.
“Unfortunately, there was a day and time in the past, that DCF and DJJ did not always work in tandem together,” Walters added. “I can say that those two agencies have come together and now just really exceeded everything that we could ever hope for the collaboration for both of those agencies with those children.”
One particular thing both Daly and former DCF Secretary Mike Carroll have worked on is the Human Trafficking Assessment tool. The goal Daly says is to help identify and track child victims of commercial sexual exploitation as well as labor trafficking. Criteria can include history of sexual abuse to running away.
“It’s allowing us to not only identify these young people, but it’s also giving the state of Florida an opportunity to really look at what the needs of these kids are and how we can come together as a state to really address the service delivery and where the holes are in the state,” said Daly, back in 2015. “It’s certainly increased the collaborative effort between DCF and DJJ and utilizing a uniform screening tool will allow us to not screen multiple kids multiple times.”
Still, over the years, reports by the Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability has raised concerns about the tool.
While it acknowledges improvements have been made, OPPAGA’s most recent report reiterates the need to have the tool validated to provide more accuracy in identifying more child victims. DJJ and DCF officials say they are dedicated to doing that, but don’t feel they have enough data to move forward as yet.
Meanwhile, under Daly’s tenure, there were also concerns a few years ago over continual problems with a private contractor that operated juvenile justice facilities across Florida. Those issues ranged from sexual abuse allegations to multiple escapes. DJJ’s contract for Youth Services International, or YSI has since been terminated.
And, last year, Daly’s agency came under fire during a Miami Herald investigation. It detailed physical and sexual abuse by detention officers and staffers as well as horror stories of “fight clubs” featuring juveniles.
“I will not deny or discredit or downplay some of the horrible incidents that have happened,” Daly told lawmakers, at the time. “We respond appropriately to those. We hold people accountable. If we need to change policies and procedures, we do so. But, it is not representative of this system.”
A new law took effect in July that now allows surprise inspections into DJJ facilities. Its sponsor, Rep. David Richardson (D-Miami), says even before passing the legislation this session, Daly was pretty responsive in allowing himself and state lawmakers to tour the facilities.
“Myself and a few members wanted to make a visit,” said Richardson, at the time. “I reached out to the Secretary. Initially told her I wanted to go unannounced. She told me she would not oppose that. In fact, the next day, she sent a letter, advising everyone in the system—her DJJ system—that if a legislator showed up, they were to let us in.”
Now, Daly says she’s looking forward to continuing doing what she loves: advocating on behalf of children.
“I believe this agency is extremely strong, and will continue down that same path,” she said. “And, I will not be far from children’s issues and advocating for children’s issues something that is very near and dear to my heart and is something that...even if I wanted to get it out of my system, I don’t think it would be possible.”
Daly will now be teaming up with her former boss Wansley Walters at Ballard Partners, a prominent Tallahassee lobbying firm.
For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter: @SaschaCordner.