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Florida’s First Lady is recruiting vets to fill jobs at the Department of Children and Families

 Casey DeSantis uses Eglin AFB as the backdrop as she announces the "Continue the Mission" initiative.
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Florida Governor's Office
Casey DeSantis uses Eglin AFB as the backdrop as she announces the "Continue the Mission" initiative.

Florida First Lady Casey DeSantis chose Eglin Air Force Base announce the initiative called Continue the Mission.

Florida’s First Lady has launched a recruitment effort urging veterans and former law enforcers to fill a void at the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF).

Casey DeSantis chose Eglin Air Force Base in the panhandle this week to announce the initiative. It's called Continue the Mission.

“We said, well, why don't we ask our great veterans to sign up to continue their service to help children in need - to become a child protective investigator," DeSantis said. "It makes perfect sense.”

DeSantis is proposing a way to fill a lot of vacancies at DCF. Job openings for child protective investigators can be found all around the state. These investigators, known as CPIs, are in short supply, and DeSantis thinks veterans would make a great fit.

"They have been spending their entire life serving the country, doing something greater than themselves. Then they come back, and some of them feel that they've lost their purpose in life," DeSantis said. "So what we wanted to do is provide an opportunity for our veterans to continue their service and to continue to serve our great children of this state.”

“That population of great Florida citizens are ideal candidates to help children and families who are at risk,” said Retired Marine Corps Major General Hammer Hartsell, Executive Director of the Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs, which is a partner in the initiative. The recruitment efforts include military spouses and law enforcers.

"First responders, military, law enforcement, we’re called to danger - to do something, to act," Hartsell said. "That's why we're going to have veterans and military spouses and law enforcers who want to do this.”

Erica Mitchell used to be a police officer with the city of Niceville. She says her police work led her to become a CPI with the Walton County Sheriff’s Office.

“I feel I developed a skill set that included great attention to detail in everything I did from observing, collecting data, documenting, and problem solving,” Mitchell said, adding that she wanted to help families improve their lives beyond her efforts handling criminals.

“In child protection, we develop a deeper relationship with the families. We’re there before the law enforcement, during the law enforcement, after the law enforcement - a long time," Mitchell said. "We go into the families' homes; we talk with everybody in the family; we get a sense of what's going on in the family dynamic.”

It’s a difficult job that’s rife with turnover. CPI’s investigate abuse, neglect, and abandonment. They assess threats to a child’s well-being and arrange emergency placement for a child who cannot safely remain at home.

As for salaries, a starting CPI makes just under $40,000 a year. A senior CPI makes about $2,000 more. A CPI supervisor makes $49,200. That’s one of the reasons why retired law enforcers and veterans are being recruited.

“Being able to leverage the veteran community that we have here in Florida is a no brainer,” said Special Forces Army Veteran Cliff Richardson. He says many veterans are looking for opportunities like this to continue their service.

“As a veteran, that was one of the things that was so important to me when I transitioned out, when I was trying to figure out, what am I going to do next? How can I have an impact?”

Richardson now works at the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. He says the initiative will help both kids and service members.

“When a child and a family is exploited, there's an opportunity cost associated with that. You potentially lose the next General, the next First Lady, the next Secretary. You don't get those back," Richardson said. "By providing veterans the opportunity to use their skills and reducing the barrier that they have to entry into a program like this, you create a win-win situation.”

DeSantis wants to make it easy for them. “In talking with a lot of our veterans, they want to serve but sometimes they can't do so in a full-time capacity. So we've been able to work it so that they can work with their schedules," DeSantis said. "So if they want to do this part time, we'll take whatever time.”

In addition to becoming a CPI or a DCF case manager, they can serve as mentors for new hires.

The Continue the Mission recruitment tour will host events around North and Central Florida in July and August. Click here for more information.
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Gina Jordan is the host of Morning Edition for WFSU News. Gina is a Tallahassee native and graduate of Florida State University. She spent 15 years working in news/talk and country radio in Orlando before becoming a reporter and All Things Considered host for WFSU in 2008. She left after a few years to spend more time with her son, working part-time as the capital reporter/producer for WLRN Public Media in Miami and as a drama teacher at Young Actors Theatre. She also blogged and reported for StateImpact Florida, an NPR education project, and produced podcasts and articles for AVISIAN Publishing. Gina has won awards for features, breaking news coverage, and newscasts from contests including the Associated Press, Green Eyeshade, and Murrow Awards. Gina is on the Florida Associated Press Broadcasters Board of Directors. Gina is thrilled to be back at WFSU! In her free time, she likes to read, travel, and watch her son play football. Follow Gina Jordan on Twitter: @hearyourthought