Big changes at Vt. DCF after deaths of 2 children - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Big changes at Vt. DCF after deaths of 2 children

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Dezirae Sheldon Dezirae Sheldon
Peighton Geraw Peighton Geraw
WILLISTON, Vt. - Big changes are coming to child protective services in Vermont. Late Friday afternoon, the Department for Children and Families outlined its plan to improve communication and keep kids safer. The big question is-- will these changes be enough to keep another Vermont child from dying?

It's a department under fire. 

"There have been many who said you haven't acted quickly enough and we want results," said Dave Yacovone, Vt. DCF Commissioner.

Vermonters are demanding changes at DCF after the deaths of two toddlers. Both had DCF involvement. Two-year-old Dezirae Sheldon's stepfather is charged with her death and 14-month-old Peighton Geraw's mom is accused of killing him.

"Other states struggle frankly a whole lot more than we do. Vermont has done well but when you have two cases like this in a very short period of time it makes you stop and take a real serious look," said Doug Racine, Vt. Human Services Secretary 

Friday Human Services and DCF unveiled a new plan to keep Vermont kids safe. The move follows a State Police investigation into DCF's handling of Dezirae's case. The report found a lack of communication within DCF contributed to her death.

State officials say the communication failures are due, in part, to outdated IT systems. They're now working to address those and other weaknesses to restore public confidence in the system. 

"There were enough concerns raised that we thought we needed to make a change in the leadership of the Rutland office," said Sec. Racine.

Lynne Klamm , a veteran field services director, will take over Rutland's operations on an interim basis. She replaces, John Zalenski, who's being shipped to another office while DCF's internal investigation plays out.

"It's an acknowledgement that mistakes were made at the management level in the Rutland office and while we investigate how serious that is and what actions, if any, we should take, we are making the change," said Sec. Racine.

Officials say the hope is Klamm will bring stability and better supervision to the office, but the changes don't stop there.

"We instituted a new policy so that whenever we're dealing with children who have had significant abuse, bones broken and terrible injuries, that staff will call the central office for guidance," said Comm. Yacovone.

Comm. Yacovone says those cases need multiple sets of eyes. The department will also:

  • Bringing an experienced field services director back to the Rutland Office and moving its current director to a different position.
  • A nationally renowned child welfare foundation will also help DCF conduct a thorough review of its child safety practices.
  • Six substance abuse specialists will assist social workers on cases that involve substance abuse as contributing factors to alleged child abuse or neglect, and 27 new positions already announced by Governor Peter Shumlin are being recruited.
  • The National Resource Center on Substance Abuse and Child Welfare will review DCF policies.
  • That work will help the governor with DCF Realignment Planning.
  • All available information will be forwarded to a Citizens Advisory Board.
  • Ongoing Policy Reviews will continue.

  • But are the changes enough?

    "We feel that these are appropriate steps to take to keep Vermont's kids safe, but I will say to Vermonters there's no perfect system," Sec. Racine.

    "It's important to be transparent. It's important to be accountable to people. That's hard to do when the law prohibits much, restricts us from talking about many of these cases," said Comm. Yacovone.

    Comm. Yacovone says he would support changing state laws change to allow him to share more case details publicly. DCF will undergo an extensive federal review in April.
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