DCF head steps down to take new job

The leader of the state's child protection agency has resigned to take a job in the private sector, Gov. Peter Shumlin announced Wednesday at a news conference in Montpelier.

Department for Children and Families Commissioner Dave Yacovone told reporters he is not leaving as a result of the recent troubles at DCF, but because he wants to take advantage of a job he applied for months ago at a human services nonprofit closer to his home in Morrisville.

Ken Schatz, the attorney for the Agency of Human Services, will replace Yacovone. Schatz was Burlington's city attorney for five years until 2012. DCF is one of six departments overseen by the Agency of Human Services.

Schatz has also worked as a juvenile defender and as an attorney at the Mental Health Law Project and the Vermont Developmental Disability Law Project, Shumlin said.

Yacovone on Wednesday said he could not reveal his new job because his new employer has not made it public.

Shumlin last month fired Agency of Human Services Secretary Doug Racine, at the time saying Racine had "stepped down." Shumlin Wednesday said he did not ask Yacovone to leave.

"Let me be clear about this, this is my choice," Yacovone said.

DCF is under fire this year after the deaths of children with ties to the department, beginning with that of 2-year-old Dezirae Sheldon in February. A state police investigation into that death revealed communications breakdowns and a failure to follow department policy.

Dezirae's death, ruled a homicide, prompted a legislative panel to investigate the state's child welfare system. That panel recently heard from DCF social workers who said they are overworked and don't have access to enough resources. Schatz said he has listened to much of that testimony and encourages DCF workers to speak out and share their experiences.

The Agency of Human Services is preparing a report, due Oct. 1, about possibly restructuring DCF to separate economic services from child protection. Shumlin in May also promised to hire more social workers, a measure Yacovone called a "tourniquet" but not a permanent solution to lack of resources.

DCF also oversees economic service programs, including heating assistance, food stamps and the motel voucher program for homeless people.

DCF under Yacovone's leadership received more than $300,000 in federal fines for errors made in processing food stamp applications.

Shumlin appointed Yacovone commissioner in January, 2011. His annual salary was $110,302.

"From the beginning you go into these positions and you kind of know it's a high-wire act, but you do it because you believe in the service," Yacovone said Wednesday.

Schatz said he is ready for the balancing act and the public scrutiny that comes with it. He acknowledged that DCF has much work to do and said he is looking forward to the challenge.

"I have a passion for issues related to children and families," he said.

Schatz lives in South Burlington, received an undergraduate degree from the University of Vermont in social work in 1977 and a law degree from Cornell University, according to a news release from the governor.

Shumlin said Yacovone approached his job with a "calm and thoughtful approach, but he also has made some real changes."

DCF has increased from 65 percent to 99 percent the timely processing of public assistance applications, Shumlin said. It has increased the number of low-income families accessing child care by 70 percent and now ensures all children in state custody have monthly visits from social workers, he said.

Yacovone previously served two terms in the Legislature. Before that, he was a vocational counselor for the poor and a nursing home administrator, according to his state biography.

Yacovone also worked for the Agency of Human Services for 12 years, where he was chief operating officer, Morrisville district field director and Commissioner of the Department of Disabilities, Aging and Independent Living.

He served as chairman of the Public Oversight Commission under governors Howard Dean and Jim Douglas and worked as director of government affairs for the Vermont Hospital Association before he was appointed to DCF in 2011.

Schatz is married to Trinka Kerr, director of Vermont Legal Aid's Office of the Health Care Advocate.


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