FLORIDA —  A new recruitment program is targeting veterans, military spouses and former law enforcement officers to fill open positions within the state’s child welfare agency and has yielded hundreds of applications and 17 new hires, according to a recent publication from Florida’s Department of Children and Families (DCF)

What You Need To Know

  •  The Florida Department of Children and Families has started a new program to recruit veterans, military spouses and former law enforcement officers

  •  The move comes after DCF saw 71% of its child protective investigators leave last year

  • So far, state officials say the new program has resulted in hundreds of applications and 17 new hires

Since launching first lady Casey DeSantis’ “Continue the Mission” recruitment initiative in June, DCF officials say they have received 365 applications and ultimately hired 17 veterans, or just under 5% of the total applications received, according to the report. 

Data included in the annual status report show DCF’s child protective investigator (CPI) turnover rates have only grown worse since last year, when nearly half of all Florida’s CPIs left their jobs. Now, the agency reports a statewide CPI turnover rate of more than 71% during this most recent state fiscal year (beginning July 1, 2021, and ending June 30, 2022).

All six regions of the state experienced higher turnover rates than during the fiscal year ending June 30, 2021, according to the report. The Suncoast region continues to have the worst CPI turnover rate, rising to 102% this year, up from last year’s 78%.

Former CPIs previously shared with Spectrum News their experiences of being emotionally burned out and exhausted from handling heavy caseloads–problems DCF has acknowledged and said it’s working to address.

“This is a hard job for some of the most resilient folks out there,” DCF Secretary Shevaun Harris told Spectrum News in an interview earlier this summer. “So I think it’s really taking all the tools in our toolkit to help support that workforce, and that is my mission.”

CPIs investigate reports of child abuse, abandonment and neglect. If they determine a child isn’t safe with their designated caregivers, investigators might remove that child from the home. Advocates for child welfare reform maintain that they believe many of those removals are unnecessary and often causing more harm than good.

“The reason caseworkers are overloaded is because they are overloaded with false allegations, trivial cases, and cases in which family poverty is confused with neglect,” Richard Wexler, who runs The National Coalition for Child Protection Reform, previously told Spectrum News. “Those cases so overwhelm workers that they don’t have time to find the relatively few children in real danger.”

Florida’s investigation rate — the number of children investigated per 1,000 children in the general population — far exceeds the national average, according to another annual status report published by DCF.

According to that report: “Florida is a high-volume reporting state, with broad statutes defining child abuse, which leads to higher numbers of screened-in abuse reports, and further compounds the issue of over-reporting.”

Spectrum News asked DCF why the department is specifically recruiting military veterans and former law enforcement officers to intervene with vulnerable children and families.

“Those are our unsung heroes, right? They’ve served our country, they keep us safe, day in and day out,” Harris told Spectrum News. “They’ve seen a lot of things. They are trained to go into difficult circumstances. They’re battle-tested, in many respects.”

Harris said she believes a workforce with that kind of “built-in resiliency” will make for a great recipe when it comes to staff retention.