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

Florida Department of Children and Families

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.

Sascha Cordner has more than ten years of public radio experience. It includes working at NPR member station WUFT-FM in Gainesville for several years. She's worked in both radio and TV, serving in various capacities as a reporter, producer and anchor. She's also a graduate of the University of Florida with a bachelor's degree in telecommunications. She is the recipient of 15 awards from the Associated Press, Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), and Edward R. Murrow. Her award-winning stories include her coverage on the infamous “Dozier School for Boys” and a feature titled "Male Breast Cancer: Lost in the Sea of Pink." Currently, Sascha serves as the host and producer of local and state news content for the afternoon news program "All Things Considered" at WFSU. Sascha primarily covers criminal justice and social services issues. When she's not reporting, Sascha likes catching up on her favorite TV shows, singing and reading. Follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter:@SaschaCordner.