Gov. Jeb Bush on Thursday named a former aide in his father’s presidential administration to head Florida’s beleaguered child welfare agency.
Jerry Regier, 57, will replace Kathleen A. Kearney, who quit Tuesday as secretary of the Department of Children & Families.
The resignation follows widespread and highly publicized problems in the department, including losing track of foster children, leaving children in abusive situations and caseworkers falsifying reports.
“This is a daunting task and a daunting day,” said Regier, who will be paid $150,000 a year, a hefty increase over Kearney’s salary of $112,797.
Regier served as Oklahoma’s secretary for social services for five years, completing his tenure in January. He also worked in Washington in social service posts for both President Reagan and the elder President Bush.
“Jerry’s professional experience has been dedicated to improving the quality of life for children and families,” Gov. Bush said. “With the experience he has gained in Oklahoma, Jerry is well equipped to handle the challenges currently facing DCF.”
Regier had been working with the state for several weeks to help it with its child welfare crisis, but he said he did not come to Florida looking for a job. Bush said Regier was just one of many people nationally who offered to help solve the department’s problems.
The agency has been under fire since it was revealed that 5-year-old Rilya Wilson disappeared while in state custody and that no caseworker checked on her for 15 months. The Miami girl has been missing since January 2001.
Regier worked for Bush’s father as head of the National Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention in 1992.
He was appointed to the National Commission on Children by Reagan in 1988 and was reappointed by Bush.
“There’s no one that’s a miracle worker,” Regier said. “We’re going to go to work on this, we’re going to have openness, and I believe that’s going to carry us forward.”