Yacovone steps down as DCF chief

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Yacovone steps down as DCF chief

Wed, 09/03/2014 - 3:38pm -- tim

Governor Peter Shumlin announced today the resignation of Dave Yacovone, Commissioner for the Department for Children and Families (DCF). Yacovone, who will assume a leadership position with a community based non-profit organization in the near future, will be succeeded by Ken Schatz, General Counsel for the Agency of Human Services. Schatz has an extensive background in handling issues linked to DCF. This is the second shoe to drop at the agency this summer. The governor fired Doug Racine, Yacovone's boss at the embattled Agency of Human Services, in August.

Dave Yacovone listens in as Governor Shumlin takes a question in 2013. vtdigger.org file photo

“I am deeply appreciative of the work Dave has done at DCF, not only in competently overseeing the day-to-day challenges facing his department, but for quickly dealing with unexpected problems and tragedies that unfortunately occur as we try to protect our children, and reworking his mission when needed to keep families healthier,” the governor said.

Shumlin specifically mentioned the Commissioner’s personal commitment to keeping all Vermont children safe, working publicly and privately to ensure that families have access to the help they need to raise healthy and successful children, and that problems – including heartbreaking tragedies – are addressed swiftly. In addition, Yacovone has acknowledged a changing landscape in DCF’s work, with opiate and heroin abuse adding a new layer of complexity and risk to the cases that come before the department.

He also noted Yacovone’s swift work to repair shortcomings in areas like the eligibility processing of public benefits for low income Vermonters. For example, under the Commissioner’s tenure:

  • The timely processing of public assistance applications has climbed from 65 percent to 99 percent.
  • Vermont – which ranked worst in the nation on error rates in the 3Squares Program – now ranks 24th and has been cited as most improved in the nation.
  • The number of children in low income families accessing high-quality child care has increased over 70 percent since 2011.
  • And the department now ensures all children in custody have monthly visits from social workers, up from only 20 percent in the recent past.

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Yacovone said the recent child fatalities have been a tragic reminder that all Vermonters must focus on making sure children are safe.

“Our systems must be examined and improved to make sure we do everything we can to protect children,” he said. “Social workers and caring foster care families, no matter how good they are, get involved after children have been harmed. We must focus on preventing the toxic stress that sadly puts too many children at risk in the first place.”

Yacovone said he was grateful to work in the Shumlin Administration. He indicated that despite budget pressures, the Governor has made significant investments for children and families.

“The Governor has supported the hiring of over 50 additional permanent social  worker positions since taking office, he understands the importance of this work,” said Yacovone.

Schatz joined the Agency in 2012 after serving as City Attorney for the City of Burlington. Prior to that work, he worked for the Defender General as a Juvenile Defender, staff attorney in the Mental Health Law Project, staff attorney in the Vermont Developmental Disability Law Project,  a legal advocate for the Bread and Law Task Force assisting low income families attempting to participate in federal hunger programs, and more. He was appointed in 1993 to the Children and Family Council for Prevention Programs, where he continues to serve, and is a member of the Coalition for Juvenile Justice.

Schatz, who lives in South Burlington,  graduated from the University of Vermont in 1977 with a B.S. in social work, and received his law degree from Cornell Law School.

“I look forward to building on the improvements initiated by Commissioner Yacovone and addressing the challenges ahead to enable children and families in our communities to be safe, healthy and have their basic needs met,” said Schatz.

Yacovone previously served as chairman of the Public Oversight Commission under governors Howard Dean and Jim Douglas. He also worked as director of government affairs for the Vermont Hospital Association before he was appointed to DCF in 2011. Shumlin appointed Yacovone commissioner in January, 2011. His annual salary was $110,302.