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Analysis: Undercount of Child Deaths Leave More Kids At-Risk for Harm

Can how a child dies under the care or watch of the Florida Department of Children and Families help determine whether the death stemmed from physical abuse, neglect, wrongful death or other harm? Apparently, opinions are mixed – especially during election season.

To Florida Gov. Rick Scott, the number of deaths of children who were under the care of the DCF statewide are open to question.

More directly, “…except for abiding by a new state law that required DCF to create a website listing all child fatalities, Florida has continued to undercount the number of children it fails,” the Miami Herald wrote in an investigation of deaths of children under the DCF.

Come have called undercount “cooked.” Most just want a fair accounting in order to help future children.

“Even as the Florida Department of Children & Families has promised greater openness, [dozens of fatalities] have never been counted among the state’s victims of fatal abuse or neglect,” the paper reported.

Following the Miami Herald’s investigative series, “Innocents Lost,” which chronicled the deaths of 477 children under DCF care over the past few years, agency officials, legislators and the governor promised change. Change came, in the form of more money for DCF investigators and case workers, greater oversight and more reporting.

But an issue seemingly as simple as determining how a child dies has been muddied by politics and continued agency inaction.

Florida’s foster kids and other at-risk youth need more than mincing of numbers and clouding of the larger picture. Sadly, at-risk children die, often in questionable circumstances. No child advocates are asking the governor or Department of Children and Families administrators to stop the deaths of all children under DCF watch. Even reasonable people can agree that would be impossible.

But a fair accounting of all children who die under DCF watch would help investigators and advocates understand the circumstances surrounding their deaths, and hopefully prevent some deaths in the future.

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