After grilling him about changes in the state’s child welfare system, a panel of state senators Thursday okayed Mike Carroll’s appointment as secretary of the Department of Children and Families.
Carroll, who is from Safety Harbor, was first appointed interim secretary by Gov. Rick Scott in April 2014, in the midst of serious upheaval in the department. His appointment came after the Miami Herald chronicled a series of child deaths, including 477 children whose families had previously interacted with DCF.
Since then, other the Tampa Bay Times and Sarasota Herald-Tribune have detailed violence and neglect at the state’s mental hospitals, tied to decreases in funding and understaffing.
“Despite some of the failures that are so prominently documented in the news, the department has many successes too,” Carroll said. “We deal with many families where we change literally the trajectory of a child’s life, we change the trajectory of a family’s life moving forward.”
The Senate committee on Children, Families and Elder Affairs voted unanimously for Carroll. Members supported him last year as well, but his was one of many gubernatorial appointments that were not confirmed by the Senate. If Carroll is not confirmed this year, the governor will have to appoint someone else to the job.
In the same vote, committee members supported the confirmation of Agency for Persons with Disabilities Director Barbara Palmer and Department of Elder Affairs Secretary Samuel Verghese. All three appointments must still be confirmed by the committee on Ethics and Elections and the full Senate.
"It's a personal thrill for us folks on this side of the table to see whave the best, most caring, the most competent nominees for categories that are the most important categories we deal with," said Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice. "Literally life and death."
Questioning of Carroll, particularly by Detert and Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, focused on the child welfare work in the department and reforms the Legislature made in 2014 to how the state responds to and works to prevent child deaths.
But Carroll also raised another issue: Many services that can help kids aren’t available to some of the state’s most vulnerable, at-risk families, particularly preschool, which he said is expensive even for those who have state subsidies that cover part of the cost.
“We don’t have to re-create the wheel,” he said, “But we have to find a way to make sure that the kids that are at the most risk have access to the kinds of things our kics have access to, because they’re in the most need of it.”
Child welfare advocates in attendance Thursday at the hearing also expressed support for his confirmation.
“Having this secretary come on board with us has been an incredible sea change,” said Victoria Zepp of the Florida Coalition for Children.