Under the direction of Governor Peter Shumlin, Agency of Human Services Secretary Doug Racine and Department for Children and Families Commissioner Dave Yacovone announced Friday significant changes being taken in the wake of the tragic deaths of Dezirae Sheldon and Peighton Geraw to ensure DCF is better able to protect children and support families. One critical change is a shift in leadership at the DCF Rutland office, with Lynne Klamm, an experienced field services director, returning to the office on an interim basis with full authority over its operation.
“We are immediately implementing several actions to help keep children safer,” said AHS Secretary Doug Racine in a statement. “Paramount is ensuring the district office in Rutland has strong supervision and staff, and has comprehensive procedures in place to protect Vermont’s children.”
Racine noted that the personnel change announced today follows the release of a criminal investigation report on the Sheldon case from the Attorney General’s office that detailed significant systems problems, including a lack of thorough communication among social workers, the Judiciary, law enforcement, medical personnel and others. However, Racine noted, the Agency had already moved forward with other improvements prior to the report’s findings.
“This Agency moved promptly following the death of Dezirae to begin making the changes we hope will help prevent future tragedies. In addition, the Attorney General’s report pointed out specific, significant flaws in our system that we’re immediately correcting,” Commissioner Yacovone said. “We are also reviewing staffing and procedures at other DCF offices around the state to ensure potential problems are addressed. And we welcome input from a legislative and an independent investigation into these tragic deaths, which might indicate additional improvements.”
Shumlin said he was pleased with the Agency’s changes, and echoed Yacovone’s commitment to learning more from the upcoming reports.
“The loss of Dezirae and Peighton has been heartbreaking. Nothing we can do will bring them back. But the additional changes we are announcing today will strengthen staffing, management and practical policy at DCF to keep our children safer going forward,” the Governor said. “We will continue to look for ways to improve the system even further to prevent these tragedies in the future.”
Key Actions Being Taken:
1. Starting immediately, AHS Field Services Director Lynne Klamm will assume leadership of the DCF- Family Services Division district office in Rutland, with full authority over its operation. Klamm is a long-time AHS employee who has supervisory and managerial experience in the Rutland DCF office. Her assignment will be on an interim basis. She will not be involved in any further investigations of the homicide of Dezirae Sheldon;
2. Casey Family Programs, a nationally-renowned child welfare foundation with decades of experience and expertise, will help DCF conduct a thorough review of its child safety practices, help the department assess its strengths and challenges, and provide their insight and recommendations on how processes can be improved to protect vulnerable children;
3. Six substance abuse specialists will be contracted to assist social workers on cases that involve substance abuse as contributing factors to alleged child abuse or neglect;
4. The twenty-seven new positions already announced by Governor Shumlin are being recruited. These positions include 18 social workers, 2 social work supervisors, a domestic violence specialist, and a child safety manager;
5. The National Resource Center on Substance Abuse and Child Welfare will help DCF review its policies, assessment protocols, and practice with families who have substance use disorders;
6. Work is underway to give the Governor a proposal to align the structure of DCF to ensure that the commissioner can have a better focus on the welfare of Vermont children and families;
7. All available information has been forwarded to the Vermont Citizens Advisory Board so their work can continue expeditiously; and
8. Policy reviews will continue as more work is done by DCF, the legislator’s Committee on Child Protection and the Vermont Citizens Advisory Board.
“We look forward to partnering with Casey Family Programs,” said Commissioner Yacovone. “We are 100 percent committed to looking at our system and making any improvements needed to keep children safe. We must ensure we are making the best decisions possible for the children who come into our care and are working and communicating effectively with all the partners involved in keeping children safe, including the court, law enforcement, schools, and families.”
“We are pleased to work with the Department for Children and Families in their efforts to ensure the safety of all of Vermont's vulnerable children and families," said David Sanders, executive vice president of systems improvement at Casey Family Programs. "We look forward to partnering with the governor's office and the community to carefully review the current policies and practices of the Family Services Division, share examples of best practices from around the nation, and make recommendations for helping Vermont to protect children from abuse and neglect.”