The DCF Debacle

Former secretary David Wilkins took a reformed agency backward.

David Wilkins

David Wilkins, former secretary of the Florida Department of Children and Families, resigned July 18 following the deaths of five toddlers who were under DCF supervision.

AP FILE PHOTO / 2011

Published: Monday, July 29, 2013 at 1:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, July 26, 2013 at 7:06 p.m.

Before his abrupt resignation, David Wilkins had been driven to put his mark on the Department of Children and Families, which he had headed since Gov. Rick Scott took office.

Unfortunately, what Wilkins will be remembered for is moving an agency that had taken huge strides toward quality backward because of his insistence on top-down management.

Wilkins resigned July 18 in the wake of the deaths of five toddlers who were under DCF supervision over the course of three months. It was an ugly return to the days before the agency was reformed under the caring guidance of former DCF secretaries Bob Butterworth and George Sheldon.

 

But Wilkins — who had made major changes to the agency, including cutting $60 million from its budget — lost sight of the importance of the transparency, accountability and old-fashioned common sense necessary to protect Florida’s most vulnerable children.

Power play

In the end, it was more than the tragic deaths of five children that did Wilkins in, although the deaths certainly were the tipping point and what alerted the public that things were amiss at DCF.

Wilkins, with Scott’s support, had adopted a policy of keeping children with their families whenever possible. It was a noble goal shared by many children’s advocates.

Yet, he embraced the policy while doing away with too many resources, including 70 quality-assurance personnel whose jobs were to make sure that DCF caseworkers were keeping a close eye on children at risk — those left in the care of parents or others who were potential threats.

hen, in an unmitigated and unmistakable power play, Wilkins began battling with the community-based care providers that have been a success story of national proportions. He wanted control over who the citizen-driven private contractors hired as their chief executives, an idea that flew in the face of the community-based model.

The community-based providers have produced dramatic improvements, including fewer children placed in foster care, soaring adoption rates and improved effectiveness in delivering services like counseling on alcohol and drug abuse and anger management to troubled families.

Messing with success

Wilkins inherited an agency that was on a roll. After virtually decades of scandal over mishandling of its charges and its budgets, DCF had made a turnaround under Butterworth, Sheldon and the community-based providers. Frankly, Wilkins messed too much with success as he took over one of the most difficult and thankless jobs in state government.

What DCF does matters not only to the children and families it serves directly but to the citizens of this state who want its welfare agency not only to do the right things, but to do them well.

This editorial initially appeared in the Ocala Star-Banner, a fellow member of the Halifax Media Group.

http://www.heraldtribune.com/article/20130729/OPINION/307299995/2198/OPINION?Title=The-DCF-debacle

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