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Florida Department of Children & Families ‘Safety Plan’ Provides No Safety for Mohney Kids

In a case of child abuse and family violence so horrific that child welfare advocates and wrongful death attorneys have said obvious “red flags” should have been apparent to all, domestic violence attorneys and child protection counselors are left to wonder whether the Florida Department of Children & Families’ creation of a “Safety Plan” for the Mohney family was a fool’s errand.

Father David Mohney was reportedly “controlling and jealous.” Wife and mother Cynthia Mohney “stumbling drunk” and abusive of their three children, according to news reports and official DCF documents. The children were left in fear of their mother.

It was their father they should have feared.

This month, David Mohney shot his three children, killing two – ages 14 and 11 – and leaving a 9-year-old in a medically induced coma. Mohney also shot himself. Yet this latest case of horrific and lethal child abuse should have been no surprise to anyone.

That a Department of Children & Families investigator penned a “safety plan” was of little use [read the DCF Safety Plan here]. That it was agreed to and signed by David and Cynthia Mohney, in the end meant nothing. That they were warned “[refrain] from family violence,” as reported by the Miami Herald, would be laughable, if the outcome was so sad.

Yet, the presence of the document reveals how intricately involved DCF was in the lives of the Mohney family and the risks faced by the children. In fact, the history between DCF and the family dates back more than a decade.

An attorney for the mother said all were caught off guard by David Mohney’s violent outburst. Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Jeri B. Cohen disagreed.

“I would have erred on the side of keeping the case open,” Cohen told the Herald. “I think there are enough flags.”

The cases against the Florida Department of Children & Families keep piling up. Murder, suicide, child abuse, sexual abuse or personal injury – the list is long and lamentable. DCF administrators have promised change. The Florida Legislature this year funded resources to provide new safeguards.

Yet the Mohney family, and the Spirit family last month, where grandfather Donald Spirit shot and killed his six grand kids, safeguards and change are meaningless in the hands of an agency that acts in the interest of expediency, rather than safety.

Early red flags led to a superficial safety plan. Ultimately, the red flags were overlooked and domestic violence threats were unaddressed. It’s not about having a plan. It’s about having real services to address problems of domestic violence – services that constantly reassess progress and risks.

The Florida Legislature is to be lauded regarding the reforms it passed and funded this past session. Hopefully, the statutes that address the methodology that DCF and its private care providers employ for safety plans and prevention of harm will lead to real services. Moreover, the Legislature has promised to address these issues again next session.

This much we know: safeguards must be implemented. Otherwise, the Mohney and Spirit children will be only the latest in an ongoing litany of sad episodes of needless – but almost predictable – violence.

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