TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — One arm of Florida’s Department of Children and Families was hit with a complete turnover of its staff over the past two fiscal years and turnover rates for other positions were also high.

Data released in DCF’s expenditure report in October indicates during that two-year period the turnover rate was 85% for critical care staff positions at the State Mental Health Treatment Facilities (MHTF).

The report stated that includes a rate of over 100% for MHTF Human Services worker positions.

Turnover was said to be 71% for Child Protective Investigators (CPI) and 56% for Adult Protective Investigators (API) in fiscal 2021-2022.

DCF Deputy Chief of Staff Mallory McManus said the agency’s current CPI turnover rate is 40%.

The staffing shortage has prompted DCF to ask for funding to grant $3,000 bonuses to new investigators and $1,500 to new mental health facility hires.

The agency said the issues have forced some employees to work 16-hour shifts, provoking other problems.

“This has caused employee burnout and has led to an increase in the use of sick leave,” the DCF report stated.

Richard Wexler, Executive Director of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform, blames the shortage on the state taking custody of too many children.

“Florida has had a take the child and run mentality for nearly 25 years,” Wexler said. “They have flooded the system with false allegations, trivial cases and family poverty is confused with neglect. That’s what causes the overload.”

McManus countered Wexler’s statement, saying Florida is at a “19-year low for children removed from their” homes.

McManus also said DCF does “prevention work,” including A Pathway to Prosperity, Family Navigation, and other programs.

Victoria Davis is one of several parents who have called 8 On Your Side with claims DCF wrongfully took custody of their children.

Davis recently moved out of Florida for a new start after she thought her case was closed but she said DCF came after her son again.

“I feel like they’re never going to let me and my child have peace,” Davis said.

Ashlee Harris and Robert White, of Brooksville, said DCF took custody of their daughters last year after White was arrested on drug charges.

“It was probably the toughest thing I had to go through,” Harris said, breaking down into tears.

The couple said what happened next made their plight even more difficult.

A DCF investigator cleared foster parent Geoffrey Prout of wrongdoing after one of their children claimed he hit her.

But in an unrelated case last November, Prout was arrested by Tampa police on seven charges including lewd lascivious molestation and sexual battery. Prout has pleaded not guilty.

Florida DCF investigators inexperienced, understaffed, overwhelmed heading into 2023

McManus said state law bars DCF from commenting on the case’s involving Harris and Davis.

“Information regarding investigations is confidential per section 39.202, Florida Statutes,” Davis wrote in an email.

In its budget report, the agency said the staffing problems left its workforce about 24% short, leaving the agency with employees with limited experience.

“Continued high vacancy rates to contribute to the increased turnover,” the DCF report stated.

Wexler said hiring more staff without making other changes will not improve DCF.

“Until DCF commits to breaking that cycle, all you’ll get if you go on another case worker hiring binge is the same lousy system, only bigger,” Wexler said.