Child abuse has claimed the lives of four Florida children under the age of 5 in the past six weeks.
Each child — 4-year-old Antwan, with his hugely proud smile; 2-year-old Ezra, with his crooked grin and little thumb up; joyful 1-year-old Fernando; and 11-month-old Bryan — were known to child welfare workers before their heartbreaking early deaths.
Obviously, our state — and I do mean our collective state — failed them.
They are not the only ones. Last year, according to the Florida Child Abuse Death Review Committee, 38 children died from abuse; of those, eight had an open child protection services case at the time of their death; 19 had a prior abuse history, and 23 families had a pattern of abuse.
When a child dies in our child-welfare system it is incumbent upon us to get to the bottom of it. We must demand answers to tough questions.
Not to do so means we would fail to learn valuable lessons needed so that something better might grow out of an unspeakable loss.
Unfortunately, it is often a time spent pointing fingers. And there are a lot of fingers working to redirect our attention right now.
Comments in recent days have hit the newspapers about going to war in the contract debates between the Department of Children & Families (DCF) and the community-based-care (CBC) lead agencies. At stake is more than the $760 million in state dollars to serve 19 areas throughout Florida.
Community-based care — and the key word is “community” — actually means that all stakeholders, including advocacy groups, have a say in what does and doesn’t happen in the child-welfare system.
In fact, it was a lot of our work and energy that went into reshaping the system in the first place. It’s not a decision between only the state agency and the lead organizations.
We understand that debate is necessary, and even healthy, to get the balance right between regulators and those regulated. But equating the dialogue to a battlefield is hardly the right tone, and we’re saying enough already.
This past legislative session two important bills passed improving foster care.
These built on other successes in preceding years and were the result of teamwork over many diverse interests. The system won’t improve for children going forward if the adults in the room don’t stay the course of finding common ground and better solutions.
Communities need to ask: What can be done to help DCF and CBCs do a better job? But community members, too, should ask themselves the same question. A larger audience should be involved to help figure it out.
Engage, don’t divide. As history has taught us again and again, when adults fight, children lose.
Roy Miller, CEO,
Children’s Campaign, Tallahassee