The Department of Children & Families has appointed a new chief for Miami-Dade and Monroe counties, another change for an agency that has been criticized for failing to protect children from abusive caretakers.
Bronwyn Stanford, a lawyer who has two leadership positions with Children’s Legal Services — as the statewide deputy director and the director for the SunCoast Region — will replace Gilda Ferradaz as DCF’s regional managing director for the Southern region.
Ferradaz, who has served in the post since July 2013 — when she replaced Esther Jacobo, who became the interim secretary — will become Stanford's deputy. Stanford will officially take over on Oct.13.
Children’s Legal Services, the child welfare agency’s legal arm, has itself been a target of criticism for sometimes preventing agency staffers from removing children from abusive households. The Miami Herald series Innocents Lost cited several instances where DCF staff sought to shelter children only to be told no by lawyers, who said they lacked “legal sufficiency” to act. In some cases, those children would later die of neglect or abuse.
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In an internal email to staff, Mike Carroll, the latest interim secretary of DCF, said he made the decision to bring in Stanford “after reviewing our needs in the Southern region.”
He also said he was grateful to Ferradaz for taking the job during a “particularly tumultuous time.”
In an interview on Thursday, Stanford gave few details about her plans for DCF in Miami-Dade, which has suffered some of the worst child welfare scandals in an agency rife with difficulties. As the Herald reported in Innocents Lost, at least 477 Florida children with DCF histories have died of abuse or neglect since 2008, falling through the cracks of the child welfare system.
First, Stanford said, she wants to come in and “listen.”
“I don’t come in and make system-wide changes without first listening to the partners and stakeholders, and most importantly, what my front-line here says about what’s working and what’s not working.”
She emphasized that “empowering the front-line” — investigators, case managers, lawyers — is key to addressing the department’s high turnover rate in Miami-Dade and Monroe.
Stanford, who previously did a stint in Miami as the interim regional director of Children’s Legal Services for the Southern region, acknowledged the challenges facing the area.
Miami-Dade ranked as one of the top counties in deaths due to neglect or abuse of children from families with prior DCF contact. Miami also has had a backlog in investigating deaths and “verifying” abuse or neglect, meaning DCF effectively under-reported such deaths to the state.
“You always hear people saying ‘Miami’s a mess, Miami’s a mess.’ All the leaders have to be committed to changing that conversation to ‘Miami works for children,’” Stanford said. “I know that every partner at the helm is committed to that.”
Stanford wouldn’t speak specifically to how she would address delays in reporting child deaths, but she said “our goal is to be transparent” and “if something’s really not working, it’s going to be addressed.”