Shumlin announces steps to strengthen DCF

MONTPELIER -- In the wake of the homicides of two toddlers in the caseload of the Department for Children and Families less than two months apart, Gov. Peter Shumlin announced Wednesday new measures to protect children from abuse.

Shumlin said the steps are not a response to the Dezirae Sheldon or Peighton Geraw cases, which are still under investigation, but an acknowledgement of systemic pressures on DCF.

The governor said the DCF central office will be required review cases of physical abuse when reunification with the parent may be considered.

Shumlin also asked Agency of Human Services Secretary Doug Racine to prepare a report, due in August, to examine whether DCF should pare back some of its other work to focus on its core mission of protecting children and strengthening families. Over the past decade the department has taken on eligibility determinations and oversight of an array of safety net services for more than 200,000 Vermonters.

Shumlin said DCF will recruit 18 social workers starting in July and six substance abuse screeners. DCF employees will get additional training on how to handle cases that involve addiction and its impact on young children.

Reports of child abuse have doubled in the past five years in proportion to the number of substantiated cases of child abuse, said Cindy Walcott, DCF deputy commissioner.

Since the 2008 murder of 12-year-old Brooke Bennett, the state has made an effort to improve training for "mandated reporters" - people such as nurses, clinicians, teachers and coaches who are legally required to report signs of abuse. Increased reporting has led to increased substantiation, but there has not been an increase in DCF funding.

During the same period that DCF saw its caseload double, its central office staff was reduced from 96 to 66, said David Yacovone, DCF commissioner.

Shumlin's measures are an improvement, Yacovone said, and will strengthen the central office's oversight capabilities but won't bring the department's resources back to pre-recession levels.

The steps Shumlin identified will be budget neutral, according to Secretary of Administration Jeb Spaulding.

The $1.6 million to fund the initiatives will come from caseload savings in the Reach Up program, federal matching funds and an offset by relying on full-time instead of temporary employees, Spaulding said.

The governor noted that additional steps could be taken in the coming months pending the results of the criminal investigation and a report from a special legislative investigation into DCF practices. Lisman will not challenge Shumlin for governor (233 words) By Tom Brown In the end, Bruce Lisman decided he could accomplish more outside of politics than inside. Lisman, a former executive at the New York investment bank Bear Stearns and founder of the advocacy group Campaign for Vermont, said Wednesday that he will not run for governor and would instead focus on the promotion of "common-sense government reforms." Lisman said in an interview Wednesday that he listened to those who encouraged him to run against incumbent Gov. Peter Shumlin and decided "a little bit ago" not to run. He said his organization will focus on long-term solutions to Vermont's problems through its lobbying and policy efforts. "I think we need a different approach that is nonpartisan and moderate," he said. "We want to spur a conversation (about Vermont issues) and being a candidate would undermine that notion and would obscure, not clarify, our effort." Lisman, who many speculated would have run as an independent, said Campaign for Vermont would not endorse any political candidates. "I think we are better off not being connected with any political party," he said. His decision narrows the field of announced challengers for Shumlin to one, Emily Peyton of Putney, who announced last week that she had secured enough signatures to qualify for the Republican ballot. She does not have the backing of party officials, however, and North Pomfret businessman Scott Milne is weighing a run for the GOP nomination. ###


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