TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — The Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) is planning to take over child protection investigations from seven sheriffs’ offices around the state, according to a new letter obtained by 8 On Your Side from DCF Secretary Shevaun Harris.
Harris writes, “Our child welfare system has evolved. Today, there is a renewed commitment on prevention focused programming, and integrating this function within existing crisis-oriented systems to provide better outcomes for families.”
The letter goes on to say the DCF and sheriffs’ offices are going to submit a proposal the Florida legislature.
“I don’t think it’s the best decision right now,” said Sandy Murman, a former state representative who sponsored the original bill that put the investigations into local hands. “When someone walks in with a badge from a hotline call, it has a lot more credibility.”
In the Tampa Bay area, Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco and Manatee County Sheriffs have a contract with the department.
“It really is a state responsibility,” Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said in a statement. “It’s not a local-level responsibility. It just makes good sense.”
The sheriff added that what worked 25 years ago isn’t the best model right now.
“We think it’s a really good move on the part of the department,” said Robin Rosenberg, Deputy Director of Florida’s Children First, a nonprofit helping at-risk kids. “DCF was hampered in their ability to make uniform policy across the state because in those places where sheriffs didn’t want to follow the policy, they didn’t have to do that.”
DCF’s letter says the department will work with the Florida legislature to make a plan for the transition. While there is no exact timeline right now, the letter says changes will happen, “in the coming months.”