TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott chose a veteran child welfare official with strong Tampa Bay ties Monday to serve as the third leader in less than a year of the troubled state Department of Children and Families.
Mike Carroll, 52, of Safety Harbor is the longtime managing director of the DCF Suncoast region that spans 11 counties from Pasco to Collier, including Tampa and St. Petersburg, and has worked for the agency for 24 years.
He will serve as interim DCF secretary at least through the November election.
Carroll's appointment comes at one of the worst periods in DCF's history, following a series of child deaths in the past year. A Miami Herald investigation last month detailed the deaths of 477 children since 2008 whose families had past dealings with the DCF.
The timing of Carroll's promotion means he must carry out a number of changes approved by the Legislature this session including revamping of policies for protecting vulnerable children and the hiring and training of nearly 200 more child protective investigators statewide.
"We have been challenged this past year," Carroll said in an interview. "When you work in this job as long as I have, any child's death is unacceptable. We simply have to do a better job."
He said investigators' case loads must be reduced and that workers must focus on children at the greatest risk: those under age 3 whose parents struggle with substance abuse and mental health problems. He also said the DCF must develop a consistent statewide approach to protecting at-risk children and investigating cases of abuse and neglect.
In Tampa Bay last year, Carroll implemented a program called Rapid Safety Feedback to better flag factors that could harm a child's safety. In 2012, the DCF fired a community-based provider, Hillsborough Kids, and hired Eckerd Youth Alternatives after nine child deaths in under three years.
Child advocates and law enforcement experts praised the choice and said Carroll has a reputation for openness and strong organizational skills.
"The feedback I get is very positive," said Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, whose county is one of six in Florida where DCF hires sheriffs' offices to handle investigations of child abuse and neglect. "He's had a good working relationship with our staff and with the other sheriffs. I'm very optimistic."
"Mike is a very good choice," said former DCF Secretary George Sheldon, who promoted Carroll to the regional manager's post in Tampa Bay. "He knows the department, and he's a common sense kind of guy."
Carroll succeeds Esther Jacobo, who took over as DCF interim secretary last summer after the resignation of David Wilkins. Her last day will be Friday.
Raised in the blue-collar Irish Catholic suburbs of Boston, Carroll began his state career as an entry-level worker in the agency's Clearwater office in 1990.
In the Suncoast region, Carroll oversaw a budget of $456 million. He has overseen programs ranging from substance abuse and mental health to family safety and adult protective services.
He has a degree in business administration from Boston College, and he and his wife Debra have two children.
For the past 25 years, Carroll has been a Pinellas County football coach for boys ages 13-15.
"I think I may be better known in Pinellas County as a football coach than in my professional life," Carroll said.
Miami Herald staff writer Carol Marbin Miller contributed to this report. Contact Steve Bousquet at [email protected]