New DCF head details changes to stop deaths among children

Esther Jacobo serving as interim secretary

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - The interim secretary of Florida's Department of Children and Families detailed the changes she hoped will stop a recent rash of deaths among children investigated by the agency.

"A child must not remain in a home if they are unsafe and we cannot make that home safer," said Esther Jacobo.

In South Florida, five children have died in recent months. They were all involved in DCF investigations.

Jacobo already ordered a review of all child deaths case in 2013 where there was prior involvement by the department.

"My first task is to make sure that our staff understands and lives every day the fact that they are responsible for the families and children's lives," said Jacobo.

Jacobo said the case worker and her supervisor failed in the case of Bryan Osceola, whose mother left him in a hot car, where he died. At the time, the boy's mother was out on bond for child neglect when she was arrested.

"Everyone should be asking hard questions about these cases," said Jacobo. "No one needs to take offense when you question about what you're doing on a case, and I think that there's a certain reluctance by some to speak up and there's a certain offense people take when they're questioned, and that, in this business, that cannot happen."

Jacobo will serve as interim secretary of DCF for 90 days unless Gov. Rick Scott asks her to stay. She replaced David Wilkins, who resigned earlier this month.

Children's advocate Howard Talenfeld said he hopes she does.

"Even in the wake of some very serious and disturbing deaths, she's opened the books of the agency's, opened their records, and said to the media, to the advocates, to the public: 'We're going to be accountable,'" he said.

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