PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The state’s embattled child welfare agency is embarking on a major effort to overhaul operations, but it still doesn’t have a permanent leader at the helm to implement the endeavor.

The R.I. Department of Children, Youth and Families on Wednesday announced a plan to revamp foster care, which would require several new employees and millions of extra dollars. But the agency does not appear any closer to hiring a new director, a job that’s now been vacant for months.

“I’m very determined to stay the course of not hiring anybody [unless] it’s the right person,” Health and Human Services Secretary Womazetta Jones, who is leading the search for a new DCYF director, told WPRI 12 on Wednesday.

Acting Director Kevin Aucoin, who is currently filling the position, has twice before served in an interim capacity, as Rhode Island has struggled to retain a permanent leader in the position state leaders have described as “one of the toughest jobs in state government.”

Former Director Trista Piccola resigned earlier this year after months of intense public scrutiny over the January death of a 9-year-old girl with special needs under state supervision, and the effort and interest in replacing her has not moved quickly.

Jones, who started in her position this summer, said she expects there to be an uptick in the number of people interested in filling the job after the new year, which is when she plans to start vetting candidates.

She would like to invite applicants in and present them with different scenarios to see how they would perform under pressure, which is different than how past directors have been assessed, Jones added.

“We’re going to put a very good process in place that includes elements that prior interview processes did not,” she said.

In addition to the challenging nature of the job, which entails keeping safe about 3,600 Rhode Island children in foster care and group homes, the cabinet position is among the lowest paid in the state and across the region.

Target 12 reported earlier this year the position earns an annual salary of $127,501 — more than double the median household income of $61,043 in Rhode Island, but short of similar jobs in other states, including Connecticut and Massachusetts.

The position is also one of the lowest paying among Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo’s 21 cabinet members, second only to the director of R.I. Elderly Affairs.

In addition to DCYF, the Raimondo administration must also fill two other soon-to-be-vacant cabinet positions, with directors on the way out at both the Department of Administration and the Department of Behavioral Health, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals.

Eli Sherman ( is a Target 12 investigative reporter for 12 News. Connect with him on Twitter and on Facebook.