DCF Tries Again to get beyond Failing Grade
The Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) had a pretty good legislative session, at least compared to other state agencies.
While DCF lost employees in its budget overall, it succeeded in advancing plans to redesign the state’s child abuse hotline and child protective investigators – both of which had received plenty of criticism after last year’s searing case involving the death of Nubia Barahona in South Florida.
“This year we came in with a very aggressive agenda and got everything we asked for,” said DCF Sec. David Wilkins. “In exchange for that, I agreed to cut positions.”
Wilkins had only been on the job a few weeks when – on Feb. 14, 2011, the eve of last year’s legislative session – the corpse of ten-year-old Nubia Barahona and her critically-injured twin, Victor, were discovered in their adopted father’s truck off Interstate 95.
In the wake of a blue-ribbon panel and a Miami-Dade grand jury report, both scathing, lawmakers learned that warning calls to the hotline about the twins had fallen through the cracks and that the Child Protective Investigator (CPI) sent to their home three days before Nubia’s murder had departed without seeing them.
One of Wilkins’ first moves was to hire 100 protective investigators right away, and another 100 since, for a statewide total of 1600. At the time of Nubia’s death, the statewide turnover for CPIs was 37 percent – and in Miami-Dade County, where she died, it was closer to 60 percent.
“I don’t know how a system can work effectively with that kind of turnover,” said Roy Miller, president of the Florida Children’s Campaign.
The 2012 Legislature approved the authority to redesign the training for CPIs and $9.8 million to raise the base salaries of investigators by $4,000 in the hope of retaining more of them – which Wilkins says is part of his strategy for doing more with less, given budgetary constraints.
“The big thing is retention,” Wilkins said. “If 400 are leaving every year, it takes three months to get them up to capacity.”
By Margie Menzel