The sudden departure Monday of Georgia’s Division of Children and Family Services (DFCS) director Rachelle Carnesale after less than a year left many child advocates scratching their heads.
“It is a surprise to everybody,” said Normer Adams, Executive Director of the Georgia Association of Homes and Services for Children.
A statement from Department of Human Services (DHS) spokesperson Ravae Graham said only that “Rachelle Carnesale is no longer with the Department.”
According to two child welfare specialists familiar with the situation, who wished to remain anonymous because of the sensitivity of the subject, DHS Commissioner Clyde Reese fired Carnesale. One specialist speculated Carnesale was dismissed because she was not making progress at the agency fast enough for Reese. He went on to say that, despite her good work, Carnesale did not have a “high profile presence” at the agency.
Attempts to reach Carnesale were unsuccessful.
DFCS handles an array of services; including welfare and employment support, protecting children, foster care and other family programs under the DHS.
Then Gov.-elect Nathan Deal, a former juvenile court judge, announced his intention to appoint Carnesale, the former acting director of the Office of the Child Advocate (OCA), to lead the agency in December of last year. The move excited many working in the child welfare field.
“I was thrilled when she got the job,” said Pat Willis, Executive Director of Voices for Georgia’s Children.
Adams was also happy about the appointment. He says Carnesale’s priority was “preserving the safety of the children in her care.”
“She wanted to humanize the department and refocus on safety,” he said. “I think she accomplished that.”
Tom Rawlins, a former state child advocate who worked with Carnesale for more than two years, says the department had lacked stability prior to Carnesale’s appointment.
“In the past, the DFCS director only stays a short time,” he said. “I had been hopeful [Carnesale] would be in the job for a long time.”
Carnesale, he said, has a deep knowledge of child welfare and sympathy for those involved.
“She is very compassionate,” Rawlins said, “both about the needs of the family and the needs of the child and the state.
Carnesale is an attorney and former prosecutor specializing in child abuse cases. As deputy director of the OCA she ran the Child Fatality Investigation Program and developed the Child Abuse Training Academy. She received her law degree from Emory University.
“I am quite surprised she is not going to be running DFCS anymore,” Rawlins said. “She had a different perspective because she was a former prosecutor and child advocate.”
Tuesday, Reese announced a new interim director of DFCS, Ron Scroggy, who comes with three decades of experience managing residential treatment facilities. Scroggy joined DFCS as chief of staff in 2010 and was named deputy director in July 2011.
In February, soon after Carnesale’s appointment, DFCS came under fire after four children who’d had contact with the agency died in a three-week period. Carnesale said some DFCS policies were under scrutiny, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.