Human Services chief shuffles staff in wake of Vermont DCF problems


RUTLAND -- A new boss at the Rutland office of the Department for Children and Families is one of several changes state officials announced late Friday afternoon in an attempt to reform the department following a police report last week that condemned the way that office handled the Dezirae Sheldon case.

Lynne Klamm will serve as interim director at the Family Services Division office in Rutland, Agency of Human Services Secretary Doug Racine announced in a news release.

Klamm is a field services director for the Agency of Human Services for Rutland and Addison counties.

She has experience as a supervisor and manager and is a "long-time" AHS employee, Racine said. She replaces John Zalenski, the current Rutland district director.

That office oversees approximately 15 social workers and has 153 open cases, according to DCF data, including 80 cases in which DCF has custody of a child.

As a result of her new job, Klamm will not be involved in any further investigation of Dezirae's homicide, Racine said. He did not immediately return a call for further comment about the shakeup.

DCF Commissioner Dave Yacovone said the department is also reviewing staffing and procedures at other offices around the state.

Racine's announcement, communicated Friday just before 3 p.m. in a news release emailed to media, follows the death of three toddlers in three months this year, including two in which caregivers have been charged in the killings.

Dennis Duby, the boyfriend of Poultney 2-year-old Dezirae Sheldon's mother, is charged with her murder. Peighton Geraw's mother, Nytasha Laforce, is charged with his murder. A police investigation is underway into the death of 22-month-old St. Johnsbury Mason Keithan, who also had ties to DCF.

A week ago, state police released a 40-page report, as well as a letter from Attorney General Bill Sorrell to Yacovone, that detailed procedural problems and fatal miscommunications among DCF, attorneys, police and others.

"We are immediately implementing several actions to help keep children safer," Racine said in the release. "Paramount is ensuring the district office in Rutland has strong supervision and staff, and has comprehensive procedures in place to protect Vermont's children."

Meanwhile, in the wake of the deaths, DCF has already made some changes.

Twenty-seven new positions Gov. Peter Shumlin announced earlier this year, including 18 new social workers, two social worker supervisors, a domestic violence specialist and a child safety manager, are being recruited.

The governor has asked Racine to create a proposal to break up DCF, separating the child protection division from the division that administers welfare programs such as food stamps.

Shumlin, Racine's boss, said he supports the changes announced Friday.

The measures will "strengthen staffing, management and practical policy at DCF to keep our children safer going forward," Shumlin said in a statement.

DCF welcomes suggestions from legislators and another independent investigations into the deaths, Yacovone said.

In addition to the leadership change, Racine announced that two national organizations will come to Vermont to scrutinize DCF's practices.

Casey Family Programs, a child welfare foundation with a focus on foster homes, will help DCF "assess its strengths and challenges," the release said.

The National Resource Center on Substance Abuse and Child Welfare will also review DCF policies and practices about families with substance abuse issues.

Other staffing changes include six substance abuse specialists who will work with social workers on abuse or neglect cases involving substance abuse.

DCF said it has forwarded pertinent information to the Vermont Citizens Advisory Board, another outside panel investigating DCF.

"We must ensure we are making the best decisions possible for the children who come into our care and are working and communicating effectively with all the partners involved in keeping children safe, including the court, law enforcement, schools, and families," Yacovone said in the release.

David Sanders, executive vice president of systems improvement at Casey Family Programs, said in the release he is pleased to work with Vermont's DCF.


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