In Florida this year there will be 400,000 child abuse and neglect investigations, and 3,400 investigators across the state looking into those allegations for the Department of Children & Families.
A Team 6 Investigation inside DCF showed the challenges of that job. Florida's Secretary of DCF David Wilkins watched that report and spoke to Diana Gonzalez about it on Thursday.
"I thought your study showed the real challenge of the job and it is a challenge of a job and it will never get better because that's the heart of what they do," Wilkins said.
Wilkins pointed out that some things have gotten better for child protective investigators in Miami-Dade.
They are making more money to start, $39,000. Caseloads have decreased. He said each investigator should certainly have no more than 20.
So when Wilkins heard Miami CPI Kristi say she had 24 open cases in April: "my response was that was too many and so why did she have 24 cases. "
The Barahona case exploded about a month after Wilkins took over as DCF secretary in 2011. At that time the turnover rate for investigators in Miami was 60 percent. Last year, it dropped to 10 percent.
There's also a better support structure in place now, so CPIs can pick the brains of more experienced supervisors.
While working on improvements to the system after a state investigation, less than 2 years later the body of Dontrell Melvin is found in the backyard of a Hallandale Beach home.
"Those kind of cases drive me crazy. They drive everyone crazy but we focus on those every single day. I get a report everyday of every child that dies in Florida and everyday I go through I look through that report and say what happened here," Wilkins said.
Dontrell's parents and other family members were no strangers to DCF, and yet the baby was missing for 18 months.
"For that case, the protocol is extremely exact on what needed to be done and the worker didn't do it. Not once but two different workers on two different occasions didn't do it, which is the simple inventoring of here are the children show me the children lets talk about the children," said Wilkins.
While one investigator and a supervisor were fired after the Barahona case, there have been no firings resulting from Dontrell Melvin's death . However, the investigators in that case are under a corrective action plan.
This summer DCF investigators will be working under a new safety framework that uses data to back up decisions that have to be made when a child's safety is at risk.
"What I'm trying to do at DCF now is really help those workers be more productive and efficient in their job by giving them better tools technologies and organizational support," Wlkins said.
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