Wilkins out at DCF, ending tenure which began and ended in stormby John Kennedy | July 18th, 2013
David Wilkins, who drew praise for guiding Florida’s Department of Children & Families through an investigation into the death of 10-year-old Nubia Barahona in West Palm Beach and lately has been fending off criticism following a wave of child deaths, resigned Thursday.
Gov. Rick Scott appointed Esther Jacobo, a managing director in DCF’s South Florida region, as interim chief.
“David did a great job in leading the state’s top child protection agency and his service is deeply appreciated,” Scott said. “I have no doubt that Esther will increase accountability in the department and enhance child protective services in order to protect the most vulnerable among us.”
Scott said Wilkins planned to focus on private sector opportunities and a foundation that he leads. Wilkins was an executive with Accenture, Inc., a worldwide technology vendor that contracts heavily with the state before becoming finance director of Florida Baptist Children’s Home.
Sen. Eleanor Sobel, a Hollywood Democrat who chairs the Senate’s Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee, criticized the agency for its actions in four children’s deaths since mid-May and scheduled a September hearing into the matter in Tallahassee.
“No child should die because of abuse and neglect,” Sobel said earlier this month.”Especially if the state goes in and investigates. That’s unacceptable.”
Wilkins, however, was credited with steadying the agency in the months after his 2011 appointment when he organized a task force to probe DCF’s role in the Barahona case. The girl’s body had been found in February on Interstate-95 in West Palm Beach, wrapped in plastic and in the bed of her adopted father’s pickup truck.
An investigation revealed she had suffered a lifetime of abuse at the hands of her adoptive parents, Jorge and Carmen Barahona, who were were indicted on charges of first-degree murder, aggravated child abuse and neglect.
The panel probing the case labeled DCF’s performance as “inept.” Wilkins defended overworked and underpaid staffers at the agency, but also vowed to change its culture. He said too many child-care workers were ill-trained and that the agency suffered from high-turnover, a decades-long problem at DCF.
Wilkins’ latest initiative called for new training of 5,000 staffers and a push to put more technology in their hands to monitor cases.
Earlier this month, Wilkins wrote a piece for the Tallahassee Democrat saying his new program was aimed at creating a holistic, multi-discipline approach to preventing child abuse.
“Our focus will shift to assessing the full family functioning to understand the dynamics and set the stage for identifying needs that will keep the children safe,” he wrote.
“Our investigators and case managers are being trained to engage the whole family in the process to teach them to make better decisions and, when necessary to keep the child safe, remove hildren from dangerous situations.”