George Sheldon, the former head of Florida’s Department of Children and Families, will lead the Administration for Children and Families for President Barack Obama.
Although ACF would not confirm reports last week that Sheldon would take a high-profile job with the administration, Sheldon told Ana Valdes of the Palm Beach Post on Monday that he would join the agency this week.
Sheldon told Valdes he is joining the administration as an adviser to Department of Health and Human Services Acting Assistant Secretary David Hansell.
Hansell, who intends to leave ACF next month, has served as acting assistant secretary since Carmen Nazario resigned last summer. When he departs the agency, Sheldon will become the acting assistant secretary.
Florida child welfare advocates have praised Sheldon for running an exceptionally transparent agency. Most notably, Sheldon set up a special website with information on the case of 7-year-old Gabriel Myers, a foster youth who had been prescribed powerful psychotropic medications and hung himself in 2009.
The agency also has released extensive files about the placement and monitoring of brother and sister Nubia and Victor Barahona. Their adoptive parents have been charged with killing Nubia and seriously injuring Victor.
Under Sheldon, “successes were discussed as plainly as challenges and even the failures,” said Roy Miller of the Tallahassee-based Children’s Campaign. “That led to being able to make improvements because we weren’t sweeping things under the carpet.”
Sheldon emerged in 2010 as a strong supporter for child welfare waivers, offered by ACF to a number of states to promote innovation by making the federal allotment of foster care funds more flexible. Florida is the only state-wide waiver project.
“The waiver has shown dramatic impacts,” Sheldon told a House subcommittee in July of 2010, saying that the number of children in out-of-home care has dropped by 36 percent in the years since his state was granted a waiver.
“Having Sheldon there should boost the prospects” for an expansion of the waiver program, said Richard Wexler, executive director of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform.
Bryan Samuels – who will report to Sheldon as Obama’s commissioner for the Administration on Children, Youth and Families – recently voiced support for the waivers but concern over most states’ capacity to accept them in tough economic times.
“One of the real challenges going forward [is]…it may be difficult for many states to enter into a waiver agreement because they want the flexibility, and at the same time keep the level of funding throughout the life of the waiver,” Samuels told Youth Today in an interview. “States are increasingly reducing their commitment to child welfare, not increasing it, and that may make a waiver circumstances difficult to implement.”
Sheldon, a Democrat, was appointed to lead DCF in 2008 by Republican Gov. Charlie Crist. From 1999 to 2003, Sheldon served as a deputy to Attorney General Bob Butterworth, the same man he would later succeed at DCF. He was elected to the Florida House of Representatives in 1974 and served there until 1982.