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Walton County May Become First In Panhandle To Take Over DCF Child Investigative Duties

Walton County Sheriff's office Twitter

A Northwest Florida county may be the first in the Panhandle to take over the child protective investigative services—normally done by the state’s child welfare agency. Walton County could join six other counties across Florida—under a bill starting to move in the legislature.

The chief role of child protective investigators is to investigate claims of child abuse and neglect. Those claims are usually housed within the Florida Department of Children and Families.

But, some county sheriff’s departments have already decided to take on that role themselves. That includes Broward, Hillsborough, Manatee as well as Pasco, Pinellas, and Seminole counties.

Now, Walton County Sheriff Mike Adkinson wants his county be added to that list.

“We’re doing it because it is the ultimately, in the best interest of these kids and that’s the driving factor,” he said, during his weekly Facebook live show in November.

Due to their law enforcement affiliation, child protective investigators working for the sheriffs often have better cooperation and respect from the community, not always afforded to DCF investigators.

That’s according to a report by the Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability, or OPPAGA.

In addition, the investigators are expected to have better resources, higher salaries, and are retained at a higher rate than those employed by the state.

And, Adkinson says assuming the child protective responsibilities will also make it easier for his sheriff’s office to add additional investigators—which will help with caseloads.

“It is tough, hard work. It is very difficult for the men and women who do that particular job,” he added. “We think by working together, we can provide a better service to the kids, and at the end of the day, that is what we’re about. So, I’m excited that we’re going to have some continuity, finally.”

But, to make that change, it still needs formal legislative approval. So, Sen. George Gainer (R-Panama City) is sponsoring a bill to make that happen.

“We believe that the legislation will allow for a quicker response and better outcomes because of the close proximity of the sheriff’s personnel being coordinated under a single entity,” said Gainer. “This will allow for a more flexible investigation because of fewer administrative barriers. Walton County Sheriff Adkinson and DCF have been working for more than a year to develop a contract that will put in place performance standards and protocol. The final step is for the Legislature to approve the transition in the law.”

Before unanimously passing the Senate Children, Families, and Elder Affairs committee Tuesday, Gainer also changed the Senate bill so the Walton County Sheriff’s office would be eligible for federal funding for child protection services. Meanwhile, its House companion has not yet had a hearing.

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter: @SaschaCordner.