Nearly 10 months after the last confirmed secretary of Florida’s troubled child welfare agency resigned amid a spate of controversial child deaths, Gov. Rick Scott’s search for a replacement ended not far from where it began, in Tampa Bay.
Scott announced Monday morning that his pick to lead the Department of Children & Families will be Mike Carroll, the longtime leader of DCF’s Suncoast Region, an 11-county area that includes Tampa and St. Petersburg.
Carroll’s appointment comes at one of the most difficult times in DCF’s history. Acting upon a series of stories in the Miami Herald called Innocents Lost, the Florida Legislature is considering one of the most far-reaching reforms of the state’s child welfare system in generations. The Herald detailed the deaths, since 2008, of more than 477 children whose families had a history with the agency.
An overhaul of DCF’s child protection policies was approved unanimously Friday by the state Senate. The measure has been sent to the House of Representatives, which has been considering a less-sweeping bill of its own.
Carroll was appointed managing director of the Suncoast Region, which stretches from Collier County in the south to Pasco County in the north, in 2006. Insiders consider him something of an organizational whiz, though he headed up the region during a time of great turmoil, including the removal of a private foster care program linked to the deaths of several children who had been on the agency’s radar screen.
Carroll will replace interim Secretary Esther Jacobo. Jacobo had headed DCF’s Miami-Dade and Monroe county operations when Scott tapped her to head the agency last summer after her predecessor, David Wilkins, resigned abruptly during a summer marked by a well-publicized series of sometimes violent child deaths.
“As regional managing director, Mr. Carroll committed himself to developing innovative and significant system improvements — many of which have become models for statewide implementation,” a biography of Carroll says. “He is recognized as a skilled organizational assessor.”
DCF’s budget in Carroll’s Suncoast Region topped $456 million, and he oversaw a variety of social service programs, including child welfare, substance abuse and mental illness. He also shepherded his area’s transition to the managed care of drug treatment and mental health programs.
Carroll, who must be approved by the state Senate, has worked for DCF since January 1990, when he began his career with the agency as a public assistance specialist in Clearwater, determining eligibility for food stamps, Medicaid and other social welfare programs.