Casey DeSantis is 'fit to fight,' visits NWFL to announce child protective services program

Tom McLaughlin
Northwest Florida Daily News

EGLIN AFB — Casey DeSantis declared herself "fit to fight" Wednesday at the Air Force Armament Museum, where she announced an initiative to recruit former military, their spouses and law enforcement into the field of child protection.

Florida's first lady, who is transitioning back into public life following a battle with breast cancer, came to Eglin Air Force Base to announce a state initiative called Continue the Mission.

Casey DeSantis, wife of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, speaks Wednesday morning at the Air Force Armament Museum about a new statewide initiative to recruit former military members, their spouses and law officers to be child protection investigators.

Child protection investigators are on the front line for the state's Department of Children and Family Services as they interact with families, DeSantis told a crowd of about 60 people. They see abuse and neglect on a regular basis and often act as a liaison between their clients and outside agencies.

The Continue the Mission program launched Wednesday and will pair Florida's Department of Veterans Affairs and DCF in an effort to recruit military members transitioning from service into child protection investigator roles.

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Florida Department of Children and Family Services Secretary Shevaun Harris speaks Wednesday at the Air Force Armament Museum about Continue the Mission, a new statewide initiative to recruit former military members, their spouses and law offers to be child protection investigators.

"I know working in child welfare is a rewarding but demanding career path," said DCF Secretary Shevaun Harris, one of several dignitaries who accompanied DeSantis. "We know there's a talent pool already out there who knows how to perform under the  pressure that comes with this kind of job."

DeSantis said the vision of Continue the Mission is to help not only families, but also assist veterans transitioning away from service, who she said often feel they've lost a sense of purpose as they step back from active duty.

"These men and women have grown used to serving their country, serving something greater than themselves," she said. "This would be a way to continue that service."

Veteran Cliff Richardson was summoned to the podium to talk about the difficulty he had in transitioning from the military to civilian life. 

Casey DeSantis, wife of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, speaks Wednesday at the Air Force Armament Museum about a new statewide initiative to recruit former military members, their spouses and law officers to be child protection investigators.

"I had to figure out what to do next," he said. "Providing veterans an opportunity to use their skills, to remove the obstacles to entering into a program like this, is a win-win."

Harris said plans call for holding veteran-specific recruitment events in areas near the state's military bases. She said the hope will be that active-duty members might gain an interest in working with DCF that will spark them to seek employment as a child protection investigator upon retirement.

Military spouses and law enforcement officers leaving that field could also be prime candidates for positions as child protection investigators, Harris said.

Casey DeSantis, wife of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, holds a press conference Wednesday morning at the Air Force Armament Museum announcing a new state-wide initiative to recruit former military, their spouses and law enforcement into the field of child protection investigation.

"We recognize that Florida military veterans and law enforcement officers and their families are perfect candidates to help these children at risk," FDVA Executive Director James S. Hartsell told the assembly. "They've been at risk. They understand people who who need stability but also need compassion.

"Military men and women understand through their own life experiences family separation, family life and family stressors," he added. "This is an extraordinary opportunity for them to step up and serve with pride, and I know veterans, their spouses and law enforcement will want to do that. I know this in my heart. They believe in service to and service for others. That's what this program is going to do."  

Erica Mitchell, who works as a child protection investigator for the Walton County Sheriff's Office, said her job allows her to "help families and improve lives beyond the criminal element."

A former Niceville police officer, Mitchell encouraged her fellow veterans of law enforcement to enter a field she said she finds rewarding.

"In child protection you develop a deeper relationship," she said. "You get a sense of what's going on in the family dynamic, you look at stressors going on in the situation."