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Panel Backs Confirmation Of 3 Agency Heads

Mike Carroll, interim director of the Florida Department of Children and Families
Mike Carroll, interim director of the Florida Department of Children and Families

A Senate committee Thursday approved the confirmations of three state agency heads who oversee services for vulnerable Floridians.

The Senate Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee voted to confirm Department of Children and Families Secretary Mike Carroll, Agency for Persons with Disabilities Director Barbara Palmer and Department of Elder Affairs Secretary Sam Verghese.

Carroll got the most questions, which centered on his department's progress in putting in place a sweeping 2014 child-welfare law.

"Senate Bill 1666 sent a clear message that safety ought to be first," Carroll said. "Also, what that bill did is make it clear that the best interests of the child should trump anything else, and we ought to be moving away from looking out for what's in the best interests of the parents. … That has been a cultural change."

He credited the law with increased transparency in reporting child deaths and improved investigations when children die. Carroll noted that since the law was passed, there has been a 25 percent increase in children coming into foster care, and he spoke of the need to focus on family services "that have a longer impact."

He also said the department still has relatively inexperienced child-protective investigators --- 80 percent have two years' experience or less, and 70 percent have less than one year --- but expressed confidence in their training. Several groups associated with the department spoke on Carroll's behalf.

Victoria Zepp, who represents the community-based care organizations that oversee foster care and adoption services, called Carroll's tenure as the agency's head "an incredible sea change" in their collaboration. The full Senate ultimately will have to vote on the confirmations.

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