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Scott Urged To Make Interim Secretaries Permanent at DCF, DJJ

Department of Children and Families

As he gets ready to start a second term, Gov. Rick Scott will have to choose leaders for the Florida Department of Children and Families and the Department of Juvenile Justice. Both agencies are operating under interim secretaries, and Scott's choice at the Department of Children and Families will be particularly scrutinized.

DCF Interim Secretary Mike Carroll, a 21-year veteran of his agency, was tapped in early May. DJJ Interim Secretary Christy Daly, after seven years in leadership roles at her agency, took the top job July 1.

Now, with the election behind him, Scott could bring in new leaders at both agencies, but he’s given no sign of his plans. His office referred a reporter to a Nov. 12 press conference in which the governor was asked about the possibility of new agency heads in his second term.

"Whenever there's the change of four years, you finish that, some people decide to move on and some people decide to stay," Scott said. "But as we have announcements, we’ll make those."

So far, the governor’s office has announced that Secretary Mike Crews of the Department of Corrections and Secretary Herschel Vinyard of the Department of Environmental Protection are moving on. But no word yet on whether Carroll and Daly will be staying at the Department of Children and Families and the Department of Juvenile Justice.

"I can say that both (Carroll and Daly) have done an excellent job and have the full confidence of their departments behind them," said Rep. Gayle Harrell, a Stuart Republican who has chaired the House Healthy Families Subcommittee during the past two years. "But of course, it’s up to the governor."

Many agree, saying Scott has effective leaders in Carroll and Daly and should focus on stability --- especially at DCF, which endured heavy scrutiny by the Legislature and the media during Scott’s first term.

What's more, the Department of Children and Families remains in a delicate position as it carries out Senate Bill 1666, a sweeping reform measure that was approved this spring and includes many players and moving parts.

"The DCF (interim) secretary is a caring and experienced child welfare professional," said Judge Cindy Lederman, a dependency court judge in Miami-Dade County's 11th Judicial Circuit. "We need to move forward and continue efforts at system reform with the existing leadership. We cannot start over yet again with new leadership. We don't have time for on-the-job training."

"Stability is probably of primary importance right now," said Christina Spudeas, executive director of the advocacy group Florida's Children First. "Mike is doing a good job, and he needs to stay where he’s at."

Carroll is the eighth secretary or interim secretary at the Department of Children and Families since 1999, and the third on Scott's watch. The governor’s original appointment was David Wilkins, who resigned in July 2013 following a wave of media reports about child deaths from abuse and neglect. Wilkins was followed by Esther Jacobo, who initially took the job for 90 days and ended up staying more than nine months and steering DCF through a gantlet of angry lawmakers during the 2014 legislative session.

Credit Florida Department of Juvenile Justice
Christy Daly, Interim Secretary of the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice

"Mike needs to change the culture at the department," said Sen. Eleanor Sobel, a Hollywood Democrat who chaired the Senate Committee on Children, Families and Elder Affairs during the crafting of Senate Bill 1666. "There are good people there, but there are also bureaucrats who need to get on board and be more accountable and transparent."

Since taking the reins in May, Carroll has faced many challenges, most notably a Gilchrist County incident in which a man shot his daughter and six grandchildren. Carroll's also been dealing with high turnover among frontline staff, an overflowing foster-care system in Miami-Dade County, and the implementation of Senate Bill 1666, which includes new programs, new training and new accountability measures.

"It’s important to have some continuity as we're really moving forward into reforming the whole system," Harrell said. "It's a delicate time, and we need experience."

Children's Lobby spokesman Roy Miller credited Carroll with bringing the privatized community-based care agencies to the table after they had an adversarial relationship with Wilkins. The agencies receive hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to provide adoption, foster-care, case-management and other family services statewide.

"They absolutely have to be at the table," Miller said. "The question is, will Mike Carroll hold that huge delivery system accountable?"

Carroll said last week he trusted the governor to make the best decision.

"I love what we do," he said. "I think we have the most sacred of missions in all of state government, to protect vulnerable kids … While I do have the opportunity, I want to make a meaningful difference, whether it's eight months or 20 years."

At the Department of Juvenile Justice, meanwhile, Daly's interim appointment followed a multi-year period of change for the agency. She served as deputy secretary to former secretary Wansley Walters, who is credited with leading reforms that shifted the agency's focus from punishment to prevention.

"I think Interim Secretary Christy Daly has done a wonderful job continuing the efforts begun by Secretary Walters," said Sen. Rob Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican who has served as chairman of the Senate Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations Subcommittee. "I hope the governor makes (her) permanent, because she's continuing the good work of Secretary Walters, and we’re seeing outstanding results."

Walters also backed Daly for the permanent job, calling her "a nationally recognized authority in the field of juvenile justice."

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