Bob Butterworth Resigns as Children and Families Secretary
TALLAHASSEE, FLA. - Bob Butterworth tendered his resignation today as Secretary of the Department of Children and Families. He told Governor Charlie Crist the job “has been one of the most challenging and rewarding opportunities in my four decades of public service.”
The resignation, which Butterworth had earlier discussed with the Governor, is effective August 15, 2008. The letter notes that Butterworth’s commitment when Crist asked him to serve was for 18 months. He became secretary on January 2, 2007.
“It is time to pass the torch to a new secretary,” says the letter, which was delivered to the Governor Tuesday morning. “It’s not that all the problems are solved. This agency will never be able to say, ‘Mission Accomplished.’ We only look at the accomplishments these past 19 months and say, ‘Keep it going.’
He said the agency has become “a pacesetter of your administration and made Florida a national leader in protecting children and nurturing families.” He said Crist had “raised the bar on expectations” of the Department.
Butterworth, who will be 66 on August 20, was Florida’s longest-serving attorney general, from 1987 through 2002. A hallmark of his tenure was a commitment to open government, a philosophy he carried into his role as secretary at the Department of Children and Families. One of his first acts as Secretary was to join a newspaper’s lawsuit seeking to open otherwise confidential records in a high-profile child-abuse case. He declared that the agency would be “transparent” and that public scrutiny would make the agency better.
He took office under a pending contempt citation from Pinellas Circuit Judge Crockett Farnell against the Department secretary over the waiting list for beds to treat mentally ill jail inmates. Butterworth oversaw negotiations with judges, public defenders, state attorneys, sheriffs and mental-health providers around the state, then worked with the governor and legislative leaders to commit an additional $11 million to pay for more beds and eliminate the waiting list.
He often referred to Children and Families as “the action agency.” Posters all over the agency touted the use of “common sense” and “a sense of urgency.” Those same posters contained six “guiding principles: Integrity, Leadership, Transparency, Accountability, Community Partnerships, and an Orientation to Action.”
Butterworth’s letter to Crist says, “Reflecting your own tone of respect for state employees, we have shown the people of the Department that we believe in them.” He added, “None of the things we did were my idea. We simply tapped the knowledge and creativity of our employees, from the leadership team to the front lines.”
He called the employees of Children and Families and local service agencies the “unsung heroes” of state government who are “often the last hope” “for people who are in crisis during these economic times, for children who suffer abuse or neglect, for adults slipping into the frailties of old age or suffering from mental illness or substance disorders.”
He also declared that the agency has “the most effective leadership team in state government.”
Butterworth promoted decentralization. His management reorganization cut administrative positions in Tallahassee and moved more decision-making to regional and circuit administrators around the state.
He split off a “Children’s Legal Services” division from the Department’s general counsel and directed that its nearly 400 lawyers act as a statewide law firm representing “the best interests of children.” If the lawyers represented children’s interest well, he declared, the agency would not have to worry about legal liability in its decisions.
The Department also focused on building strong relationships with local agencies that had contracts and grants to handle a number of social-service functions. He referred to them as “our community partners.” The Department reached out to advocacy groups, many of them longtime critics of the agency, and created groups such as the Child Protection Task Force and the Adult Services Advisory Panel.
Butterworth was particularly proud of the Department’s accomplishments in promoting adoptions, an initiative that preceded his arrival. During the fiscal year that ended in June, 3,674 foster children were adopted. Butterworth announced a goal of reducing the number of children in “out-of-home” care, including foster homes and shelters, by half by the end of 2012. The number is already down 22 percent since the beginning of his tenure.
Florida is the only state in the country to have been given a statewide child welfare waiver to Title IV-E of the Social Security Act, which allows the use of federal foster-care funds to provide services to help keep troubled families together.
At the same time, Butterworth focused on the needs of foster children. The Department enlisted foster children and former foster children to draft “Rights and Expectations for Children and Youth in Shelter or Foster Care,” and committed the agency to protecting their right to access to their own records, to be heard in court, to privacy and protection of property and to be placed with, or at least have regular contact with, brothers and sister.
He also focused on foster kids’ transition to adulthood. One of his successful causes in the most recent legislative session was funding for a program called “road to independence” to help young adults pay rent and other expenses while they attended college or vocation schools after they reached 18. Children and Families itself hired more than 100 former foster children under its “Operation Full Employment,” which began earlier this year.
Other milestones during Butterworth’s tenure:
“All of us have been inspired by the people whose lives we touch every day,” Butterworth told Crist in the resignation letter. “They are the reason we are here, the reason we keep going.” He added, “This has been one of the great adventures of my life.”
- Recognizing the paramount importance of protecting children, the agency stepped up efforts to insure that all children under the department’s care be seen by a casework at least every 30 days. Crist himself championed an initiative to equip frontline caseworkers and investigators with handheld devices to capture real-time information on children and their households, including photographs and GPS data as a guard against missing children.
- The Department’s ACCESS Program, which includes online and telephone applications for benefits, received national recognition with its receipt of the Innovation in Government Award from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. The program, which began before Butterworth arrived, has been recognized by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as the most outstanding of its type in the nation. More than 40 states have visited the operation, and a group from Singapore recently asked to visit.
- As a result of the work of ACCESS personnel on the front lines, the Department went from one of the highest food stamp error rates in the country to the most improved. The accomplishment brought a $ 5.4 million award from the federal government. Florida is second lowest in food stamp errors nationally, behind only South Dakota.
- Members of the Department have been actively involved in a number of efforts not directly housed within this Department but which contribute to the overall benefit of Florida’s citizens, particularly vulnerable populations. Butterworth himself was a member of the Children’s Cabinet, the Commission on Open Government and the Supreme Court Mental Health Initiative. Others include the Governor’s Task Force on University Campus Safety and the Child Abuse Prevention and Permanency Advisory Council.