- Associated Press - Friday, June 20, 2014

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) - Vermont is making more changes at the Department for Children and Families in the aftermath of the death of two toddlers, including replacing the head of the office that had overseen the case of one of the children.

Vermont Agency of Human Services Secretary Douglas Racine and DCF Commissioner Dave Yacovone said Friday the changes were designed to correct deficiencies discovered in the aftermath of the deaths of 2-year-old Dezirae Sheldon, of Poultney, and 15-month-old Peighton Geraw, of Winooski.

“Paramount is ensuring the district office in Rutland has strong supervision and staff, and has comprehensive procedures in place to protect Vermont’s children,” Racine said in a statement.

A major change was to have Agency of Human Services Field Director Lynne Klamm become interim director of the DCF office in Rutland, which oversaw Dezirae’s case before her death.

The changes were announced in the aftermath of a criminal investigation into Dezirae’s case by the attorney general’s office that found no criminal conduct by department staff, but it did identify a lack of communication among social workers, the courts, law enforcement, medical personnel and others.

Peighton’s April death has been ruled a homicide and his mother pleaded not guilty to second degree murder. Dezirae’s stepfather has pleaded not guilty to second degree murder in her February death.

DCF has already moved to fill some shortcomings in the system that became apparent after their deaths, including hiring dozens of new social workers and substance abuse specialists.

Last month the state announced it was hiring 27 additional social workers. The state will also contract for six substance abuse specialists.

The national child welfare foundation, Casey Family Programs, and the National Resource Center on Substance Abuse and Child Welfare will help the department review its policies.

“We are 100 percent committed to looking at our system and making any improvements needed to keep children safe,” Yacovone said in the statement. “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.”

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