JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — An Action News Jax Investigation has uncovered the people hired to keep local children safe are quitting at an alarming rate.
Fifty Department of Children and Families Child Protective Investigators have resigned in Northeast Florida so far this year.
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DCF’s own data shows retention of Child Protective Investigators in the Northeast Florida region has gone down 20 percent over the past two years.
The agency’s Northeast region covers the Jacksonville, Gainesville and Daytona Beach metropolitan areas.
The agency launches thousands of investigations into child abuse, neglect and abandonment every month in Northeast Florida.
Westside Jacksonville 5-year-old Zykerria Robinson had adult bite marks on her body; police say she was beaten to death.
Inside a purple house in Orange Park, police said a 13-year-old boy was chained to furniture, zip tied and locked up for days without food.
These are the children DCF Child Protective Investigators are supposed to keep safe.
“They do have a high turnover rate. Everybody just can’t handle that job. It’s tough,” said Janelle Boyce, a former Child Protective Investigator in Lake City.
Boyce resigned in May.
She said seeing kids in terrible situations, the long hours, being on-call overnight and chronic understaffing were hard on her and her own family.
“The hours, it’s too much. It’s too much. And with all the people that they don’t have, it puts a lot on the people that’s there. You’re picking up more cases,” Boyce said.
As CEO of Safe Haven, Kathy Swafford said she helps kids who fall through the cracks at DCF.
Swafford said she’s worried the wave of resignations is causing the children those investigators were supposed to protect to get overlooked.
“It’s very concerning because that does put our children at more risk than what they already are,” Swafford said.
Action News Jax asked DCF for the resignation letters written by each Child Protective Investigator who left their job in Northeast Florida this year.
Boyce’s letter said, “personal matters and the stress of the job is not beneficial to assisting families and child safety.”
“I really did not want to have the weight on my shoulders if I made a mistake when it came to a child’s safety,” Boyce told Action News Jax.
Several resignation letters were positive; one said, “It’s been a wonderful experience to work for such a great Department.”
It took DCF three weeks to explain why one former Child Protective Investigator’s scathing resignation letter was missing from the public records the agency sent us.
A source who used to work for DCF sent Action News Jax that letter, which said in part, “I would like to believe that finding ourselves in this position where we are half staffed and desperately trying not to break Florida Statute is the product of circumstance and not gross mismanagement. I don’t know if I can.”
An agency spokesperson says the letter was missing because, at the time of Action News Jax’s request, it was still “being processed.”
DCF would not sit down for an interview with Action News Jax, but a spokesperson emailed us some information about what the agency is doing to recruit new Child Protective Investigators.
The agency spokesperson said it hires dozens of college graduates who interned with the agency, has recruiters in each region, and trains new investigators so they know what they’re getting into.
DCF said that by the end of August, more than 30 investigators who’ve been training or who’ve been on reduced caseloads because they’re new will be part of the full rotation in Duval County.
DCF also said caseloads for each investigator have declined in the Northeast region from 13.4 in October 2018 to 9.8 in July 2019.
Janelle Boyce doesn’t worry about caseloads anymore; she has a new job.
“I’m actually working at Walmart doing the online grocery shopping. And I love it,” Boyce said.
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