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Florida DCF Secretary Adds Investigators to Nubia Barahona Death, but Misses Lessons Learned After Rilya Wilson’s Disappearance

Florida Department of Children and Families Secretary David Wilkins plan to decrease visitation and quality assurance related to foster children in the agency’s care raises questions about lessons learned following the disappearance of Miami child Rilya Wilson. The result could be more lawsuits and damage claims lodged as vulnerable children in the system are lost or overlooked.

Visitation is a key component in the care of these children. Case workers develop the rapport of a therapeutic relationship with the children. It’s been shown that if something’s going wrong in the household, children are more likely to open up to an adult they trust. Relying on computerization and audits will not work. You cannot de-emphasize the child being visited; you cannot replace the value and impact of a quality visit – and the quality assurance that tracks visits. Otherwise, the system is operating in the dark.

Cuts have proven ominous. Earlier this year, Gov. Rick Scott ordered billions in state budget cuts, which resulted in the elimination of 500 of the DCF’s 13,000 positions.

“We made a lot of mistakes,” Wilkins told the Daytona Beach News-Journal this week. He was referring to the case of Nubia Barahona, whose adoptive parents have been charged in her death and her brother’s torture. “It heightened for me the importance of improved child safety.”

Wilkins said change is afoot. According to the paper, “He said he would take aim at practices that have been rendered unnecessary with new technologies. The requirement that DCF caseworkers visit children in their custody every 30 days — formulated in response to the disappearance of 5-year-old Rilya Wilson in 2000 — could be de-emphasized in favor of better electronic monitoring of school, medical and department records.” He added, “Don’t be afraid of change.”

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