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In Florida and US, Child Welfare Privatization is a Failed National Experiment

Florida’s child welfare experiment in the privatization of child care and oversight has proven to be a failure. Children suffer sexual abuse, physical harm, and – as a Miami Herald expose revealed – death, even of those children known by the Florida Department of Children and Families to be at risk. As attorneys and lawyers for at-risk children in the child welfare system know, no data supports the cause of privatization. And Florida is not alone.

Talenfeld - Alexendria HillIn a sad tale of child abuse and capital murder similar to some of those we’ve witnessed in Florida, 2-year-old Alexandria Hill of Texas died in 2013 at the hands of a foster parent hired to care for her by a company hired, in turn, by the state to oversee her care. Read her story here.

The story, “The Brief Life and Private Death of Alexandria Hill,” reports that Alex was removed from her parents, in part, because the father admitted to smoking marijuana after he put her to bed in the evening. She was placed with a former crack addict and an out-of-work bus driver, the article claims, paid by a billion-dollar contractor just over $44 a day to be “mentors” to two foster children.

The calculation is stark. “Squeezed by high caseloads and tight budgets, state and local child welfare agencies are increasingly leaving the task of recruiting, screening, training, and monitoring foster parents to these private agencies,” wrote Mother Jones. “In many places, this arrangement has created a troubling reality in which the government can seize your children, but then outsource the duty of keeping them safe—and duck responsibility when something goes wrong.”

Officials with the Florida Department of Children and Families have faced this reality many times. The Miami Herald revealed that, beyond any sex abuse or physical harm the children may endure, 477 kids who were known by DCF to be at risk died. Not all were in child welfare placements. Many were with their families.

But the cases of most were overseen by private contractors, hired and paid by the state but held loosely accountable for the outcomes. Those outcomes, it is plainly clear, can be deadly.

Whether in Florida or Texas or a host of other states that have outsourced the care and oversight of at-risk children, these deadly outcomes can be preventable. As has been the case in Florida, legislators have to fund agencies and demand better oversight. Administrators have to demand more from their community based care providers. And society has to speak up and demand more themselves.

In November 2014, a jury found foster mother Sherill Small guilty of capital murder, sentencing her to life without parole. Assistant district attorney John Redington won, but was left feeling “hollow,” Mother Jones reported. “We get vengeance on these people and it makes us feel better temporarily. But true justice would be making real change in the system so no kid is ever put through this kind of nightmare again.”

We owed as much to the Alexandria Hills of the world. We owe it to every child still living in the failed experiment that is the outsourcing of child welfare services.

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