David Wilkins, Floridas top child welfare and social services administrator, resigned Thursday amid an escalating scandal over the recent deaths of four small children who had a history of involvement with child-abuse investigators.
Wilkins is leaving the agency to pursue opportunities in the private sector and to provide more attention to a foundation he leads, Gov. Rick Scott said in a statement.
Wilkins, who became the governors longest-serving agency head, served as secretary of the Department of Children & Families since Scotts inauguration in 2011. But in recent months, Wilkins became mired in a simmering controversy over the deaths of four youngsters in a six-week period, all but one from Miami-Dade and Broward counties. A fifth child, also from Miami, nearly died from a lacerated liver after the agency failed to act when the infant suffered a broken thigh bone months earlier.
In his statement, Scott said the agencys top Miami administrator, Esther Jacobo, would serve as interim secretary.
David did a great job in leading the states top child protection agency and his service is deeply appreciated, Scott said. I have no doubt that Esther will increase accountability in the department and enhance child protective services in order to protect the most vulnerable among us.
At an event at a Bradenton farm late Thursday, Scott said his administration would work hard to make sure that well have the right people there to take care of anybody that has a need in our state. He praised Wilkins as a man who cares about kids, adding: Hell be a big loss.
In his short resignation letter printed on plain paper with no state letterhead Wilkins said he appreciated the opportunity to serve the children and families of this great state.
Thursday afternoon, Wilkins sent a short email to the agencys 11,600 employees, thanking them for their service and declaring he was proud to be [their] leader.
We embarked on numerous change programs, and I can honestly say we have improved our operational efficiency dramatically and helped more people in this state then we ever imagined possible, Wilkins wrote. Referring to his wife, he added: The greatest joy for Tanya and I was to witness the true passion that so many of you demonstrate every day in helping others. It was awe inspiring! We both want to thank you from the bottom of our hearts for the hard work, the support and for believing in us and what we tried to accomplish.
Together, he added, we made a difference. Continue to be proud of the great sacrifices you make every day so that others too can live the American dream. Our primary wish is that God will continue to bless you, your family and all of those you continue to help.
Jacobo began her career at DCF as a lawyer and, as statewide deputy director of the departments Childrens Legal Services, she was responsible for litigation and other legal work statewide before taking over as top administrator in Miami Dade and Monroe counties. She is also a former prosecutor, having risen to division chief of domestic crimes at the Miami-Dade State Attorneys Office.
She inherits an agency in great turmoil.
In recent weeks, one of the states established advocacy groups, Floridas Children First, called on Scott to make changes at the top of DCF. On Thursday, the groups director, Christina Spudeas, said she was looking forward to the new administration.