MONTPELIER -- An administration report on ways to improve and reorganize the Department for Children and Families has been pushed back.
In May Gov. Peter Shumlin ordered the Agency of Human Services to develop a plan to reorganize DCF, following the deaths of two toddlers involved with the department.
Doug Racine, the secretary of the agency, was required to release a report by Aug. 1, but that deadline has been pushed back to October to allow input from advocates and stakeholders.
The governor's Council on Pathways from Poverty asked for the delay, according to Christopher Curtis, an attorney with Vermont Legal Aid and a co-chair of the council.
Racine said he was prepared to deliver the recommendations next month, but said he welcomed the opportunity to refine them and incorporate public comment.
Council members presented Shumlin with a letter Thursday asking that the process include the public. Racine began talking with council members about stakeholder involvement last week, he said. Curtis did not appear to know why the public wasn't involved from the beginning.
"It is late and that was part of the problem. We, (and to my knowledge other stakeholders or affected parties) hadn't been asked for input. So, it was really now or never in terms of making a request," he wrote in an email.
The report is to examine whether it makes sense to pare back DCF to focus on its core mission of protecting children and strengthening families, officials said.
Over the past decade, the department has taken on eligibility determinations and oversight of an array of safety net services for more than 200,000 Vermonters.
Any changes at the department could have "a ripple effect" in the lives of low-income Vermonters and the state's most vulnerable families, Curtis said.
"That's why this seemed like a good opportunity to ask for stakeholder and public involvement to provide feedback, get educated and start a dialogue," Curtis said.
The delay shouldn't be cause for concern, he said, because a legislative committee is still investigating child protection practices, and the agency could benefit from that committee's recommendations, too.
"Rather than commit to an early deadline, why not take advantage of legislative and stakeholder perspectives?" Curtis added.
Members of the Pathways from Poverty Council were interested in creating an opportunity for public involvement, and presented a letter requesting public engagement to the governor at a council meeting Thursday. Racine, who attended the meeting, was receptive to the idea, Curtis said.
"I want the input, I appreciate their willingness, their desire to expand the process," Racine said.
The council doesn't have substantive recommendations for how DCF could be improved at this time, Curtis said, but he's eager to start a discussion.
Racine said he has not discussed with council members what form the public input might take, but will determine that in the coming weeks.
"The Poverty Council has done tremendous work in the past year helping us formulate smarter, more responsive policies for Vermonters in need," Shumlin said in a statement, adding that he looks forward to working with the group on further recommendations.