As Sen. Eleanor Sobel and Interim Department of Children & Families Secretary Esther Jacobo were practicing their talking points for Tuesday night’s Tri-County Legislative Delegation Town Hall, the Miami Herald was toting up bodies for its explanatory journalism headlined Killing our kids.
Veteran reporter Carol Marbin Miller knows where the public records are, and she’s not afraid to read them. Otherwise, we still would not know that DCF’s spring and summer death toll stands at more than 20. That’s five times higher than the four children we’d read about on the Herald’s front page before then-Secretary David Wilkins resigned.
Why Gov Scott thinks Jacobo was a good choice to replace Wilkins is anybody’s guess. Most of the deaths that resulted in Wilkins’ “abrupt departure” came from the South Florida region run by Jacobo and others hired by Bob Butterworth and George Sheldon, who headed the agency when Charlie Crist was governor.
Then, and now, DCF and its legislative overlords talk a better game than they actually play.
The three-hour “Sobel Show” featured an endless parade of preening politicians generating soundbites for future campaign fundraising. Sobel, the Senate’s designated champion for Floridians who are too young, too old or too disabled to protect themselves, was mostly protective of Jacobo. Sitting shoulder-to-shoulder on stage, they looked a lot like The Girlfriends Show sketch on Saturday Night Live, babbling bromides about how “we’re not here to point fingers; let’s hold hands.”
Members of the public who came to talk turkey rather than sing Kumbaya were given the bum’s rush, or worse.
Take Pat McCabe. The foster father of three left work early to attend the hearing and speak for the dead who have perished in state “care.” Sobel took umbrage at McCabe’s fiery rhetoric and upbraided him as if he were an errant schoolboy fomenting a cafeteria food fight.
McCabe is hardly alone in thinking that Florida’s power structure could use a little more outrage about a large pile of little dead children. Perhaps sensing that she had been unduly rude to McCabe, Sobel assured the audience that she herself was outraged and asked her colleagues on the dais to raise their hands if they’re outraged, too.
Just hours before, people who could not be bullied and silenced were in a courtroom and on DCF’s case about a 4-year-old boy who has spent his entire life in a “violent, unstable and dangerous home” with the agency repeatedly refusing to remove him. The entire dependency court bench had taken the unusual and possibly unprecedented step of sitting en banc to try to figure out what the agency could possibly be thinking.
DCF’s $80,000-a-year attorney, Christy Lopez-Acevedo, was less than helpful and disrespectful to the five judges, basically telling them that DCF’s decision making was a “work product” and none of their business.
Jacobo is rumored to be gunning for the secretary’s job on a permanent basis, and there appears to be bipartisan support. Sobel beamed as Jacobo said, for the umpteenth time, “We are getting help with examining what may have gone wrong. The more eyes on a child, the better the decisions are, the better decisions we can make.”
But there’s no shortage of eyes. It’s brains and spines that are in short supply.
Florence Snyder, former special counsel, DCF, Tallahassee