MONTPELIER — State officials announced a change in leadership Friday at the Rutland office of the Department for Children and Families in the wake of an investigation into the death of a 2-year-old local girl.
Lynne Klamm, field services director for the Agency of Human Services, has assumed leadership of the district office of the Family Services Division.
She replaces John Zalenski, who will be transferred to the department’s central office in Essex Junction. Commissioner David Yacovone said the replacement and transfer were not disciplinary actions.
“We are immediately implementing several actions to help keep children safer,” Human Services Secretary Doug Racine said Friday. “Paramount is ensuring the district office in Rutland has strong supervision and staff, and has comprehensive procedures in place to protect Vermont’s children.”
The department has been heavily scrutinized since the deaths of 2-year-old Dezirae Sheldon, of Poultney, and 15-month-old Peighton Geraw, of Winooski, earlier this year. Both children, whose deaths were determined to be homicides, were under the supervision of DCF.
The personnel change in Rutland announced Friday afternoon follows the release of a criminal investigation report on the Dezirae case completed by the attorney general’s office. The report detailed significant problems, including a lack of thorough communication among social workers, the courts, law enforcement, medical personnel and others.
The state is also seeking assistance from Casey Family Programs, a nationally known child welfare foundation, to help DCF conduct a thorough review of its child safety practices.
The state will also contract with six specialists to assist social workers in cases where substance abuse are factors in alleged child abuse or neglect.
Racine and Yacovone said work is continuing on implementing changes sought by Gov. Peter Shumlin last month. That includes boosting the DCF workforce with an additional 18 social workers and two social work supervisors
Shumlin also called for a proposal to reorganize DCF to ensure that its focus is on protecting children. That work continues.
Yacovone, who has faced calls for his resignation, defended the department’s efforts to improve.
“This agency moved promptly following the death of Dezirae to begin making the changes we hope will help prevent future tragedies,” he said. “In addition, the attorney general’s report pointed out specific, significant flaws in our system that we’re immediately correcting.”
He added, “We are also reviewing staffing and procedures at other DCF offices around the state to ensure potential problems are addressed. And we welcome input from a legislative and an independent investigation into these tragic deaths, which might indicate additional improvements.”
The governor has not asked Yacovone to resign.
Shumlin said Friday he is pleased with the department’s efforts.
“The loss of Dezirae and Peighton has been heartbreaking,” he said. “Nothing we can do will bring them back. But the additional changes we are announcing today will strengthen staffing, management and practical policy at DCF to keep our children safer going forward. We will continue to look for ways to improve the system even further to prevent these tragedies in the future.”MORE IN Vermont News
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