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With Advocates’ Guidance, Florida Department of Children and Families Embraces Needed Reforms

October 4th, 2013   No Comments   Advocacy, Commentary

As it promises change and improvement in the interest of the safety of foster children and at-risk kids statewide, the Florida Department of Children and Families has asked organizations to lend guidance of its child safety model. The work of at least one policy group – Casey Family Programs – has gained the attention of DCF Interim Secretary Esther Jacobo and other child advocates and attorneys.

Casey’s report found DCF’s safety measure lacking. This comes in the wake of the deaths of 20 children whose situations were known to DCF and its community-based care providers. Casey found that DCF must broaden its focus from children in danger to include children at-risk of becoming so.

Noted Casey’s Alan Puckett and Dee Wilson: “The safety model…does not clearly convey the cumulative emotional and developmental harm which children may suffer from chronic neglect or from the combination of chronic neglect with physical abuse or sexual abuse. In many chronically referring families, children may be neither in present or impending danger nor truly safe given the cumulative developmental and emotional impact, and occasional significant harm, which may result from low level chronic maltreatment.”

DCF’s embrace of the Casey recommendations comes as advocacy groups chided DCF for reducing quality-assurance positions since 2008. Florida’s Children First President and child advocate attorney Howard Talenfeld said at a recent town-hall meeting that DCF must restore those positions to better monitor children under its care.

Now, DCF must embrace wholesale change.

“The Casey Family Programs report makes it clear that more work is needed before Florida’s new model will achieve its intended purpose,” wrote Christina Spudeas, FCF executive director. “Pushing ahead with training and piecemeal implementation is a waste of time, talent and money. It’s time for DCF to stop, regroup, and invest needed resources to make sure our new model does what we need it to do — protect Florida’s kids and support families.”

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