Head of Vermont's child protection agency resigns


MONTPELIER -- The head of Vermont's Department of Children and Families is leaving for another job in the aftermath of two infant deaths that have prompted increased scrutiny of the state's child welfare system.

At a news conference Wednesday, Gov. Peter Shumlin announced that Commissioner David Yacovone is resigning, and said he did not seek Yacovone's departure. He praised Yacovone and described some of his accomplishments.

"I hope that we've made very clear, that this is a choice that David has made with his wife and family many months ago based on what he sees as best for his future, his life at this time," Shumlin said.

Yacovone said he wasn't free yet to discuss his new job with a community nonprofit organization, but said it will be closer to his Morrisville home, almost within walking distance.

Ken Schatz, general counsel for the Agency of Human Services, which includes the department, will succeed Yacovone. Schatz is a long-time child advocate.

Yacovone's resignation comes less than a month after the firing of former Human Services Secretary Douglas Racine.

Public attention on the department's inner workings follows the deaths this year of two toddlers in separate incidents who had been in the state's care.

A second-degree murder charge has been filed in Winooski against the mother of 15-month-old Peighton Geraw. In the other case, a second-degree murder charge also has been filed against the stepfather of 2-year-old Dezirae Sheldon of Poultney.

In hearings this summer, a special legislative committee has been examining the department's operations. And a separate internal study is underway to recommend changes within the Agency of Human Services. Dr. Harry Chen, the former health commissioner who replaced Racine, said at the news conference that the recommendations would be made by Oct. 1.

Shumlin praised Yacovone and said his accomplishments include a commitment to keeping children safe, improvements to the application process for public assistance and reducing the error rate in the state's food assistance program.

"There's no back story here. I've loved the work. I have been incredibly privileged to serve at this level and will deeply miss it," Yacovone said. "But I know when it's time to move on and this feels like the right time."

Schatz said he takes on his new job "with my eyes open."

"We have some hard tasks ahead. We have some significant work to make sure that our children and families are safe, that their basic needs are met and we can continue to make our communities a welcome place for all."

Schatz joined Human Services in 2012 after serving as city attorney in Burlington. He's also worked for the Defender General, the Mental Health Law Project, the Vermont Developmental Disability Law Project and the legal advocate for the Bread and Law Task Force.


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