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‘Transformation’ at Florida Department of Children and Families Ineffective in Protecting State’s At-Risk Youth from Harm, Death

August 15th, 2013   No Comments   Advocacy, Commentary

Florida children’s rights attorneys and child advocates who work to protect at-risk children from sexual abuse, physical abuse and wrongful death have recoiled in horror at the deaths of four children in as many months. That the children died at the hands of caregivers or family is sad. What’s worse is that all were known to administrators at Florida Department of Children and Families and their contracted community-based care providers as being in risky situations. All their cases were closed without remedy.

Now, DCF is promising a “transformation” of its practices.

The missing component here is any lack of coherent protective services for the children. There have been no long-term involvement to ensure the children’s ongoing safety or removal from risky situations. All this, even though investigators in every case identified the risks to the children.

One child in Seminole died in a stifling car – left there by a mother officials knew from two prior investigations to be an alcoholic. Other kids were beaten; reports were left on the state’s child abuse hotline.

But in each situation, the cases were closed without action or remedy. What’s worse, state law currently requires investigations be closed after 60 days unless there’s been a dependency filing to bring the children into care.

Without that, no one is empowered to oversee the previously identified risk to the children – or whether it was addressed.

Essentially, the state has habitually declassified risk. Yet, the risks have not disappeared or been addressed. They’ve been hidden away in cases that have been closed – without any true closure or resolution.

Four times in four months, this practice was proved to be a failure.

DCF’s proposed “transformation” of child protective investigations offers no good solutions, only bad recommendations. It will lower scrutiny for highly at-risk kids and will leave practices pretty much unchanged.

What’s worse, questions and comments presented at a hearing to review these changes – and answers to which are required by Florida Administrative Code – went unanswered.

Stifling inquisition and dissent will not make the problems go away. Promising “transformation” and delivering hollow promises will not remove the risk from these children’s lives.

Some people we trust at DCF truly believe that this “transformation” is the best thing to happen in years. Advocates remain skeptical. As Florida’s Children First recently commented, “We are continuing to assert that the transformation needs to be stalled and a thorough look taken at what is being done. We believe that the concept is a very good one, but that the Rule being proposed does not help get this in action, and in fact will be harmful to children.

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