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DCF chief of staff resigns amid turmoil

Department of Children and Families Chief of Staff Amanda Prater is stepping down from her post, a department spokeswoman confirmed Thursday.

Her replacement: DCF Child Abuse Prevention Coordinator Jane Johnson.

"Jane's years of service in government and nonprofits to vulnerable children and adults make her the ideal candidate for the role of chief of staff," DCF Secretary David Wilkins wrote in a statement.  "She will bring energy, enthusiasm and a relentless work ethic to this role, and I look forward to working with her as we continue to improve DCF to better serve Florida’s children and families."

Johnson starts in her new role on Monday.

The transition comes at a tumultuous time for DCF.

Beginning in May, four small children whose safety had been on DCF's radar screen died under tragic circumstances over a six-week period. The deaths -- all but one in Miami-Dade and Broward counties -- occurred just as the department was set to unveil a child protection "transformation" that Wilkins insists will dramatically improve the agency's record at keeping children safe.

Wilkins also has sustained withering criticism over his efforts to exercise much greater control over the 20 or so privately run foster care agencies under contract with the state. Executives at the so-called Community-Based Care agencies say Wilkins has tried to bully them into accepting clauses in the contracts that will, among other things, give DCF veto power over the private agencies' leadership teams.

Prater served as chief of staff for about a year. She is leaving to pursue opportunities in the private sector, DCF spokeswoman Alexis Lambert said.

Miami Herald staff writer Carol Marbin Miller contributed to this report.

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