Defining what abandonment is
Theresa Flury, a child welfare lawyer who for two years ran the statewide guardian-ad-litem program, which helps children navigate the court system, said state child protection administrators would be “raising holy Cain” if the parents of healthy children had ceased all contact with their kids. Youngsters like J.J. with severe disabilities are effectively abandoned, she added, “because nobody speaks for these children, because, unfortunately, they can’t cry out for themselves.”
“I’m sure all of them have depression,” added Flury, who now heads the Boys and Girls Club of the Big Bend. “Medication will not help. What they need is a family.”
Under Florida law, DCF can seek supervision or custody of children who have been abused, neglected or abandoned by their parents. Mothers and fathers who fail to “evince a settled intent to parent” may be accused of abandoning their child under state statute.
Under the law, “abandonment” occurs when a parent “has made no significant contribution to the child’s care and maintenance or has failed to establish or maintain a substantial and positive relationship with the child, or both.”
Michelle Dahnke, a spokeswoman for the healthcare agency, said all state employees, as well as nursing home staff, are required to report suspicions of abandonment or neglect, but that agency records reviewed by The Miami Herald don’t “constitute reasonable cause.”
What’s more, a parent’s unwillingness to speak with healthcare workers “in relation to the difficult decision some parents of medically complex children must make as to whether their child is best served in a skilled nursing facility or in the parent’s home” should not be interpreted as abandonment, Dahnke said.
“The agency,” Dahnke added, “places high priority on the safety and protection of children. We believe anyone who suspects abandonment or neglect should report it to DCF.”
Gelles, the dean from the University of Pennsylvania, disagreed with Dahnke’s assessment, saying “it is abandonment” when a parent leaves a child in an institution and does not visit. He added that those parents “probably wouldn’t contest” a petition from child welfare authorities to declare such a child dependent on the state.
George Sheldon, who was DCF secretary under former Gov. Charlie Crist, and now is the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ assistant secretary for the Administration for Children and Families in Washington, concurred with Gelles, saying “on the face of it, I don’t see how it’s anything other than abandonment.”
The onus for reporting parents who abandon their children may well fall on the nursing homes themselves, said Andrea Moore, a Coral Springs lawyer and children’s advocate who has served on several child welfare panels and consults with DCF and some of its private foster care agencies. The homes, she added, have a disincentive to make such a call, because they’re paid so much money.
As DCF secretary, Sheldon developed a program to recruit “champions” for foster kids with severe disabilities or medical needs who would benefit from intensive advocacy. The effort arose when a disabled teen in need of a new liver was removed from a Gainesville hospital’s organ procurement list because doctors feared he could not sustain a new organ while in foster care. The boy was given a new liver at Jackson Health Systems after The Herald wrote about his plight. He’s now doing well.
Sheldon said children in institutions should be given advocates as well.
Anubis Day will cry no more
Whatever becomes of the lawsuit by Dietz and the saber-rattling by the Justice Department — whether the state is forced to restore in-home care or appoint “champions” for institutionalized children — Anubis Day will not benefit.
The little boy from Pompano Beach who was shaken so violently and swung by his legs until both limbs fractured because he wouldn’t stop crying will cry no more.
He stopped breathing on Dec. 15. He was 3 years old.
His 41-year-old father, Paul Day, who had previously been charged with aggravated child abuse, now faces a murder charge.
His mother, who could not be reached by The Miami Herald, “denied knowledge of father mistreating victim,” the DCF report on Anubis’ injuries said.
He was seldom visited in the nursing home where he lived and died.
“I don’t know that there’s any rule about how often you should visit a child in a nursing home,” said Gwen Wurm, a University of Miami pediatrician who heads the medical foster care program for Jackson Health Systems. Wurm called the problem “a major loophole” that should be fixed, so that children do not grow up isolated in institutions.
“How sad for these kids,” she said.