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The Spirit Family, the Florida DCF and the Nagging Question: When is Enough Not Enough?

When is enough not enough? In a case of rampant and reported child abuse, personal injury and continual poor care and physical harm to six children – who all lived amid horrible squalor – the lives and deaths of the Spirit children at the hands of their grandfather should have been no surprise to the Florida Department of Children and Families. The case has child advocates and children’s rights attorneys wondering what went wrong.

Dating back to 2008, the calls to the state’s abuse hotline began and grew numerous, as did the investigations. Mother Sarah Spirit, daughter of Don, the grandfather who killed this grandchildren and Sarah before turning the gun on himself, was the subject of ongoing reports and attempts to intervene.

The children were burned, beaten, poorly supervised, starved, suffered medical and dental neglect and were sent to school to teachers who also questioned their treatment and care.

Child advocates and children’s rights attorneys who protect at-risk kids and families from personal injury, wrongful death and physical and sexual abuse learned through the media the horrors that went on in the Spirit home in Bell, Florida.

This blog recently commented on how the Spirit family apparently was known to the Florida Department of Children and Families.

Now, news reports reveal the depth of intervention. Some 18 investigations were opened and closed dating back to 2008. At least once, the children were removed from Sarah Spirit’s care. As recently as early September, child welfare investigators had visited the family’s home in North Florida just outside Gainesville.

What DCF personnel found was a continuation of the life Mr. Spirit, his daughter, Sarah, and her six children had lived for years. It all came to a head on September 18, leaving child advocates and children’s rights attorneys wondering just how many signs are necessary for officials to take decisive action.

Mr. Spirit’s violent outburst killed eight people, including himself, and ended a life of unending physical abuse, personal injury, horrible neglect and – ultimately – wrongful death.

The lives and cases of the Spirit family become another in what tragically has been a growing list of families and children – almost 500 known to date, according to a Miami Herald report – whom the Department of Children and Families have known of and who who died or were killed.

As details emerge of the Spirit family’s tragedy, child advocates and children’s rights attorneys who were puzzled as to what went wrong have even fewer answers today.

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