Agency of Human Services & DCF Announce Steps to Improve Child Safety

By Joe Gullo , Christine Souders |

Published 06/20 2014 03:13PM

Updated 06/20 2014 11:16PM

WILLISTON, Vt.- UPDATE: The Department for Children and Families is making significant changes to better serve Vermont children.

This is in response to the deaths of two toddlers within a few months of each other.

The Agency of Human Services and DCF are replacing the District Director at the Rutland office, John Zalenski.

He will be transferred to the central office where he won't work with families anymore.

The new interim director will be one of the agency's experienced field services directors' Lynne Klamm.

The Agency of Human Services is now investigating Zalenski for any possible misconduct.

"I don't think anyone should take this as a personal failure of any one person," said Dave Yacovone, DCF Commissioner.

The Rutland Office handled Dezirae Sheldon's child abuse case.

DCF Commissioner Dave Yacovone said they couldn't make personnel changes until the Vermont State Police Report into Dezirae's case was released last week.

The report details mistakes made by DCF when they investigated Dezirae's broken legs in 2013.

That's partially why Zalenski was moved.

"In totalilty the communication breakdown is a critical incident, but now we're investigating to see if there's misconduct. There's enough concern," said Yacovone.

The deaths of Dezirae and Peighton Geraw are pointing out the state's shortcomings.

"When we see these tragedies, we have to ask ourselves what can we do differently, are there problems in the system. We've had a pretty good system, but it can always be better," said Doug Racine, Agency of Human Services Secretary.

DCF will start filling 27 new positions in the next few weeks.

A nationally-renowned child welfare foundation will conduct a thorough review of DCF's child safety practices.

Six substance abuse specialists will be contracted to assist social workers.

"Substance abuse is a significant challenge for our families. Since 2009 the number of cases that have had some involvement in substance abuse has increased 55 percent," said Yacovone.

The changes are expected to reduce DCF's caseload ratio, which is too high by national standards.

Vermont will now have 1 worker to 16 families, still short of the national goal, which is 1 to 12.

The changes won't happen overnight, right now DCF is in the recruiting process to fill those positions.

No other staff members at the Rutland office have been moved or suspended.


WILLISTON, Vt. - The Agency of Human Services (AHS) and Department for Children and Families (DCF) announced steps to improve child safety on Friday. The changes come after the tragic deaths Dezirae Sheldon and Peighton Geraw.

A press release says one of the changes includes a shift in leadership at the DCF Rutland office, with an experienced director returning to the office on an interim basis.

“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.”

Racine says that the personnel changes follows the release of a criminal investigation report from the Attorney General's office. That report highlighted problems with lack of communication among social workers, the Judiciary, law enforcement, medical personnel and others. Racine says that the agency has already implemented changes prior to the reports findings.

Other key Actions Being Taken: 
  • Starting immediately, AHS Field Services Director Lynne Klamm will assume leadership of the DCF- Family Services Division district office in Rutland, with full authority over its operation. Lynne is a long-time AHS employee who has supervisory and managerial experience in the Rutland DCF office. Her assignment will be on an interim basis. She will not be involved in any further investigations of the homicide of Dezirae Sheldon;
  • Casey Family Programs, a nationally-renowned child welfare foundation with decades of experience and expertise, will help DCF conduct a thorough review of its child safety practices, help the department assess its strengths and challenges, and provide their insight and recommendations on how processes can be improved to protect vulnerable children;
  • Six substance abuse specialists will be contracted to assist social workers on cases that involve substance abuse as contributing factors to alleged child abuse or neglect;
  • The twenty-seven new positions already announced by Governor Shumlin are being recruited. These positions include 18 social workers, 2 social work supervisors, a domestic violence specialist, and a child safety manager; 
  • The National Resource Center on Substance Abuse and Child Welfare will help DCF review its policies, assessment protocols, and practice with families who have substance use disorders;
  • Work is underway to give the Governor a proposal to align the structure of DCF to ensure that the commissioner can have a better focus on the welfare of Vermont children and families;  
  • All available information has been forwarded to the Vermont Citizens Advisory Board so their work can continue expeditiously; and
  • Policy reviews will continue as more work is done by DCF, the legislator’s Committee on Child Protection and the Vermont Citizens Advisory Board. 

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