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Wilkins resigns as secretary of DCF, Scott names replacement from Miami

David Wilkins, Florida’s top child welfare and social service administrator, resigned Thursday amid an escalating scandal over the recent deaths of four small children who had a history of involvement with child abuse investigators.

Wilkins is leaving the agency to “pursue opportunities in the private sector and to provide more attention” to a foundation he leads, Gov. Rick Scott said in a statement. 

Wilkins has served longer than any other agency head under Scott, serving since the governor's inauguration in 2011. But in recent months, Wilkins had become mired in a simmering controversy over the deaths of four youngsters in a six-week period, all but one of them from Miami-Dade and Broward counties. A fifth child, also from Miami, nearly died from a lacerated liver after the agency failed to act when the infant had suffered a broken thigh bone months earlier.

In his statement, Scott said the agency’s top Miami administrator, Esther Jacobo, would serve as interim secretary. “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.” 

More here.

Jacobo began serving at DCF as statewide deputy director of DCF’s Children’s Legal Services in, and was responsible for litigation and other legal work statewide before taking over as top administrator in Miami Dade and Monroe counties. She is also a former prosecutor, having risen to division chief of domestic crimes at the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office. 

Wilkins, who had worked as a technology consultant before accepting the top job at DCF, also had faced withering dissension from the leaders of 20 private agencies that provide foster care and adoption services throughout the state under contract with DCF.

Until Wednesday, when he announced a reversal in his demands, Wilkins had been insisting that the community-based care agencies, or CBCs, grand him the authority to reject all high-level executives — a demand the private groups had balked at.

Wilkins’ resignation comes at a sensitive time for the long-embattled agency: DCF is mid-stream in a controversial effort to overhaul the state’s system for investigating child abuse, assessing the risk to troubled families and providing services to mitigate such risks. Wilkins has called the project a child welfare “transformation,” and some of policies have drawn harsh criticism from experts and advocates.

Wilkins was appointed to DCF, a mammoth agency with a $1 billion budget, in January 2011. Wilkins had been a consulting executive with the technology vendor Accenture, which has a large footprint in Florida government contracting, and also had served as the finance chief of the Florida Baptist Children’s home, a social service group with strong Christian fundamentalist roots.
As a businessman, Wilkins was considered an excellent fit for the Scott administration, which valued corporate experience over government work or public service, especially in the early days of the administration. Wilkins had served on Scott’s transition team. Wilkins put some of his critics at ease early on when both he and Scott announced the week Wilkins was appointed that they would not appeal — or otherwise fight — an appeals court ruling that cleared the way for gay men and lesbians to adopt children in the state.

Here's the release from the governor's office:

Governor Rick Scott announced the appointment of Esther Jacobo as interim Secretary of the Department of Children and Families. Esther Jacobo replaces David Wilkins who resigned to pursue opportunities in the private sector and to provide more attention to his foundation.

Governor Scott said, “David did a great job in leading the state’s top child protection agency and his service is deeply appreciated. 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.”  

Esther Jacobo, of Miami, most recently served as the Regional Managing Director for the Southern Region of the Florida Department of Children and Families, which is comprised of Miami-Dade and Monroe Counties.  Under the position, Jacobo supervised the delivery of an array of Child Welfare services to children and young adults, including foster care, adoptions, support services, prevention initiatives, child protective investigations, and young adults on the road to independence.  Jacobo also oversaw the Department’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Program, which is dedicated to the development of a comprehensive system of prevention, emergency/detoxification, and treatment services. Other services within the Department’s portfolio include funding of programs for refugees and the homeless.

In February of 2008, Jacobo began serving at DCF as Statewide Deputy Director of Children’s Legal Services (CLS) where she was responsible for statewide litigation practices of CLS in Miami Dade and across the state. 

In January 2001, she served as the Division Chief of the Domestic Crimes Unit at the State Attorney’s office. There, Jacobo supervised all domestic violence prosecutions in Miami-Dade County, participated in community-based initiatives to assist victims of domestic violence and developed protocol to be used in both the felony and misdemeanor courts with regard to these cases. During that time, she also prosecuted several domestic violence homicides.

Jacobo received her Law Degree from St. Thomas University in Miami in 1992. That same year she was appointed as an Assistant State Attorney in Miami-Dade County by Janet Reno and remained in that office until April 2007.