Gov. Peter Shumlin's administration announced some tweaks to operations at the Department of Children and Families today in the wake of a report that found flaws with the agency's handling of an abuse case involving a Poultney girl who was killed after social workers allowed her to return home.
The current head of the DCF Rutland office, John Zalenski, is being replaced on an interim basis by a higher-up from the Agency of Human Services, field services director Lynne Klamm.
Zalenski has been reassigned to the DCF central office, pending a review of his actions that could last one month, DCF Commissioner Dave Yacovone said in an interview.
Zalenski will not be involved in case work, Yacovone said. Zalenski, who could not be immediately reached for comment, is a member of the Vermont State Employees Association and has due process rights, Yacovone noted.
Klamm formerly worked at the Rutland DCF office. The AHS is the umbrella organization that encompasses DCF.
“We are immediately implementing several actions to help keep children safer,” said AHS Secretary Doug Racine. “Paramount is ensuring the district office in Rutland has strong supervision and staff, and has comprehensive procedures in place to protect Vermont’s children.”
Additionally, the administration is bringing in Casey Family Programs, a national nonprofit child welfare organization, to review DCF's procedures and issue recommendations "on how processes can be improved to protect vulnerable children."
The changes, announced late this afternoon, come days after Attorney General Bill Sorrell released a report on the death of Dezirae Sheldon that found communication gaps in DCF's Rutland office and other serious errors. The report, based on a Vermont State Police investigation, found that law enforcement officials investigating the child's broken legs were not made aware by DCF that Dezirae's mother had reported that Dezirae's stepfather, later charged with the child's murder, was in her home. She later blamed him for breaking the girl's legs.
"The investigation revealed some striking examples of flaws in how the case was handled that demand immediate changes in practice and policy as well as legislative changes that will avoid similar tragic outcomes in the future," Sorrell wrote. "There were significant flaws in the handling of the case, particularly in the area of information sharing."
Yacovone and Racine said in interviews that they had been awaiting results of that report before taking action.
"We're trying to move quickly when appropriate," Racine said in an interview.
DCF has been under fire since the deaths of Dezirae and 15-month-old Peighton Geraw of Winooski, who was found dead one hour after a social worker visited his home and saw bruises on his neck but left. Geraw's mother has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder.
Among the changes, DCF is hiring six substance abuse specialists to partner with social workers in child abuse or neglect cases that involve substance abuse. And work continues on reforms announced last month by Shumlin, including a possible streamlining of DCF's operations and the hiring of 27 new employees, including 18 social workers.