Dave Yacovone, the commissioner of Vermont's Department for Children and Families, announced his resignation Wednesday. Yacovone, who oversaw DCF during a period of intense scrutiny and criticism following the deaths of two toddlers, will take a new job in for a community-minded non-profit near his home in the Morrisville area, he said. He did not specify the job because it has not been announced to the new employer's staff, he explained.
"Let me be clear about this; this was my choice," Yacovone told reporters. "I believe in service. It hasn't been easy, but these jobs--none of them really are. But I'm not running from anything."
DCF came under fire this year following the deaths of toddlers Dezirae Sheldon of Poultney and Peighton Geraw of Winooski. Each had been in state custody, then returned to parents or step-parents who are now charged with their murders. Each of those adults suspected of causing the deaths denies the allegations.
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DCF was cleared of negligence in those cases and Yacovone said the department has improved, including by adding social workers. Panels are still looking into the way DCF handles concerns of kids who may be at risk.
"It's one of the toughest jobs in state government," Gov. Peter Shumlin, D-Vt., observed of DCF employees. "They're dealing with kids that desperately need us and families that are dealing with problems that are inexplicably complex."
Ken Schatz, the lead attorney for the Vermont Agency of Human Services, will take over as DCF commissioner. "Dave leaves big shoes to fill," he said. "We really can make positive change. And this position is incredibly challenging; there's no doubt about it, but I look forward to that opportunity and my commitment to doing the best I can to improve those conditions."
Shumlin praised Yacovone and thanked him for his period of service to Vermont, noting that a rise in opiate abuse has made for new challenges for the state. In a news release, Shumlin also noted Yacovone’s work to repair shortcomings in areas like the eligibility processing of public benefits for low income Vermonters. The release from the Shumlin administration cited the following achievements for DCF:
- The timely processing of public assistance applications has climbed from 65 percent to 99 percent.
- Vermont – which ranked worst in the nation on error rates in the 3Squares Program – now ranks 24th and has been cited as most improved in the nation.
- The number of children in low income families accessing high-quality child care has increased over 70 percent since 2011.
- And the department now ensures all children in custody have monthly visits from social workers, up from only 20 percent in the recent past.
Shumlin had previously asked his new human services secretary, Dr. Harry Chen, for a reorganization plan for the agency by October 1. State officials said Wednesday the DCF changes will not impact that deadline.