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Department Of Children And Families Commissioner Resigns

family silhouette
Pixabay/Public Domain

Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin announced Wednesday that the commissioner of the Department of Children and Families is leaving to take another job. The department and its leader have been criticized since the death of two children whose families had been under state supervision.

In February, 2-year-old Dezirae Sheldon died of a skull fracture. Her stepfather has been charged. The child’s death occurred after the DCF returned her to the home despite repeated reports of abuse. In April, a social worker noted bruises on 14-month-old Peighton Geraw’s neck, but took no action. The child died a few hours later; his mother has been charged with murder.

The deaths resulted in public condemnation of the Department of Children and Families and calls for the firings of top officials, especially Commissioner David Yacovone.

Last month, Governor Shumlin fired then-Secretary of the Agency of Human Services Doug Racine, but stood by Yacovone. But Wednesday, the governor held a press conference to announce that the embattled commissioner had tendered his resignation.  “He has insured that low income families who deserve quality child care are getting quality child care. In so many other ways I’m grateful for his leadership. David some months ago applied for another job in the human services sector. Ken Schatz is going to be the new Commissioner of the Department of Children and Families.”

Yacovone was asked if the troubles plaguing the department were a factor in his resignation.  “I just have a great opportunity in my own community that I want to take advantage of.  During the most difficult parts of the job, during the tragedies we felt, I was always sustained to come back and do more just because I believe in serving vulnerable Vermonters. And that’s what I want to continue doing.  So it hasn’t been easy, but these jobs none of them really are.  But I’m not running from anything.”

Yacovone will be replaced by Agency of Human Services General Counsel Ken Schatz. Prevent Child Abuse Vermont has partnered with the department on prevention work. Executive Director Linda Johnson praised the new commissioner.  “He has a strong background in juvenile justice. He’s played a national role with the Juvenile Justice Coalition and represented Vermont on that coalition.”

Legislators created the Committee on Child Protection at the end of the session to investigate and evaluate Vermont’s current child protection system. It must report its findings and offer any recommendations for legislative action January 6th. Committee member Senator Kevin Mullin says it’s premature to assess the impact of these changes.  “Yesterday’s announcement was kind-of a surprise. I think it’s a little bit premature to know whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing. I mean the governor stuck with the previous commissioner through such a long period here. It’s clear that changes have to be made. We have some really, really good DCF offices and then we have some that are sub-par. What we need to do is make sure that we’re going to protect the child and that there’s going to be quality oversight by that local DCF office.”

Governor Shumlin would not say whether there would be further changes at the Department of Children and Families.
Audio from the governor’s press conference is courtesy of the online investigative newspaper VT Digger.org.

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