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DCF Chief Announces Department Changes

MIAMI (CBS4)-The Department of Children and Families' secretary David Wilkins announced a number of changes at the department to reduce the chance of failures in the future. The move comes after a review into the handling of the Barahona case and the death of 10-year-old Nubia Barahona.

The changes are based on recommendations of a blue ribbon panel created to investigate DCF's handling of the Barahona case and the death of Nubia Barahona.

"Nubia's tragic life will not be a hidden sadness. We all owe a debt to her memory and all children, to learn and do the best we can to protect what God has given us. Judges and higher powers will hold the fate of those responsible. It is our responsibility now to work together for those who have put their trust in us," said Wilkins.

Nubia was found dead in her adoptive father's truck on Valentine's Day; her twin brother Victor suffering from chemical burns in the front seat. The father, Jorge Barahona, and his wife Carmen have both been charged with first-degree murder.

"Over the last several weeks and with the help of this independent committee, we have a good understanding of what went wrong in the overall care of Nubia and Victor. This tragedy was more than just mistakes and poor job execution by selected employees and subcontractors," said Wilkins. "It was a total systematic failure of the child welfare system created by a fragmented business model with antiquated processes, procedures and technologies and conflicting rules and incentives."

In the four days before Nubia's body was discovered, abuse allegations that were called into the DCF hotline were never reported to law enforcement.

Wilkins said the department will be initiating 19 short term goals, some of which have already been started. The goals address law enforcement integration, Hotline operational improvements, case management and action with central office. The Secretary said they will also hire an additional 80 child protective investigators statewide and reallocate positions to reduce the average caseload per investigator in this region from an average of 17 cases per worker to 14 without any additional cost to taxpayers.

Fran Allegra, CEO of Our Kids, a community based care agency that handles cases for DCF, said they aim to

"Never ever do we rest and say we've got this perfect,"said Allegra. "And never ever do we say, 'Okay we don't need to improve,' this is always about continuous quality improvement."

The department also plans to launch a 're-engineering initiative' focused on child protective investigators. Wilkins admitted that the CPI process is riddled with problems; inadequate training of investigators, inordinate paperwork, unleveled supervision and lack of management focus. He said because of this CPI turnover is enormous, caseloads are too high and mistakes are made.

But how will DCF manage with $180 million in proposed budget cuts to their department?

"I looked at vacant positions that are already out there in a lot of the regions and I also looked at some other opportunitues where other costs could be cut at the central office," Wilkins said.

Wilkins said accountability will be a key focus in the future. He pointed out that three employees have already left the Miami office and he's ordered the reprimands of Hotline employees and the Regional Director.

"I also made several organization and management changes including the Hotline operations and the merging of the program/policy office with regional operations. This will provide improved institutional leadership for the frontline. These are not punitive measures, but actions that demonstrate the standards Floridians expect and that our own employees, who work so hard every day, deserve."

Read David Wilkins' Full Statement

EMERGENCY COMPONENT - LOCAL

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