MONTPELIER — Governor Peter Shumlin’s own Pathways from Poverty Council is asking him to allow for public participation before the Agency of Human Services issues its recommendations on how to address systems, policies and procedures within the agency.
As a result, Shumlin’s office says it is planning to extend an Aug. 1 deadline for AHS Secretary Doug Racine to submit a plan to the governor’s office to reorganize the agency. That deadline will now be Oct. 1.
Shumlin’s order for a reorganization plan, along with other more immediate changes he called for in May, came on the heels of the deaths of two children involved with the Department for Children and Families. Two-year-old Dezirae Sheldon of Poultney died in February and 15-month-old Peighton Geraw died in April. Both deaths were ruled homicides resulting from trauma.
Shumlin said a review and reorganization of DCF is needed because the current department was created from two others in 2004. He said he wants to ensure DCF is focused on its core mission: protecting children and strengthening families. Work not associated with those issues may be reassigned to other parts of state government, according to the governor.
Christopher Curtis, co-chairman of the Pathways from Poverty Council, created by Shumlin through an executive order in December, said council members are aware of ongoing action by a special legislative panel.
“I think the council members became increasingly aware that there’s clearly a public process that the Legislature has undertaken on the questions of child protection. It’s clearly been undertaken with urgency and great concern, as is appropriate,” he said.
But members also want to ensure that any changes made by the administration to DCF also includes input from stakeholders and the public.
“I think many of the stakeholders around the table at the poverty council starting thinking that if there are major policy chances being considered that may have a big ripple effect,” he said.
Council members “wanted to be a part of whatever changes the administration is making,” Curtis said, “rather than just respond to those.”
The council delivered a letter to Racine requesting more time and public input at its Thursday meeting. Shumlin agreed on Friday.
“The Poverty Council has done tremendous work in the past year, helping us formulate smarter, more responsive policies for Vermonters in need,” Shumlin said in a statement. “I am grateful for their work, and appreciate their suggestion that we take more time and receive more input prior to formulating further recommendations regarding the work of the Agency of Human Services and the Department of Children and Families.”
Shumlin said his administration will work with the council on receiving public input.
“I’ve asked Secretary Racine and his Agency team to coordinate with the Poverty Council to ensure we receive strong feedback in this process, and look forward to receiving their further recommendations by October 1st,” Shumlin said in his statement.
Curtis said additional input will help the administration reform the agency in a constructive way.
“We can’t possibly represent all the constituencies out there. Our hope is that this will invite more process … and allow people an opportunity to either write to the governor’s office or write to the secretary,” he said. “I think to open that process will give the administration the benefit of more solutions and informing their decisions.”