Though Jacobo is expected to remain at DCFs helm for only 90 days sources say she told Gov. Rick Scott she did not want the job permanently she appears to have big plans for that time.
She is scheduled to travel to each region of the state to speak with employees, clients and contractors. She has said she will consider tweaks to what was perhaps Wilkins defining initiative, a so-called transformation of the child-protection system that includes revisions to virtually every facet. Wilkins viewed it as his legacy. His critics called it misguided and potentially dangerous. Jacobo already has changed the tone of DCFs conversation with the 19 privately run groups that administer foster care in the state. And shes elevated DCFs transparency to levels not seen since the administration of former Gov. Charlie Crist.
She will build bridges, and shore up those relationships, said Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle, a former boss. You are going to find her to be more of a peacemaker. It will be less about someone who comes along and breaks all the china.
Jacobo never planned to run a social services agency. She was a lawyer all the way.
The daughter of Cuban migrants her father was a businessman who left the island before Fidel Castro seized power; her mother was a schoolteacher who fled afterward Jacobo moved from New Jersey to Miami when she was four.
She earned her law degree from St. Thomas University in 1992, and took a job as a prosecutor for then-State Attorney Janet Reno, for whom she was already working as a counselor for crime victims and witnesses. Like most newbie prosecutors, Jacobo started out in county court. But she moved steadily up the ladder, from juvenile court to the felony division to a specialty in domestic crime. In January 2001, Fernandez Rundle named Jacobo chief of the domestic violence unit. Jacobo beefed up prosecutions for both misdemeanor and felony domestic battery arrests; she tried the homicide cases herself.
The experience as a family violence prosecutor really prepared me for some of the things I saw here at DCF, Jacobo said. Not just working with partners and collaborators such as the police, she said, but learning more about what makes men and women strike out at the people closest to them: spouses and children.
Jacobo left the State Attorneys office in April 2007 to join the Elser & Foster-Morales law firm, where she remained for only a year. The following February, one of Jacobos mentors in the state attorneys office, Mary Cagle, called. Cagle had been tapped by former Attorney General Bob Butterworth to run DCFs child welfare legal department when Crist appointed Butterworth DCF secretary. The legal department had been an embarrassment: The Florida Bar had, three years earlier, released an evaluation of the bureau, calling it accidents and disasters waiting to happen. The Bar suggested the legal department be disbanded altogether in favor of local prosecutors offices.
I said, Esther, you have to meet me today, Cagle recalls. The two women sat at a park halfway between their offices. I said This is our chance to get into an agency and do something to transform how stuff is done. We can raise the bar for lawyers, and do something to help kids . Esther, you can change the world.