Florida child advocates, guardians and attorneys who represent and protect the state’s most vulnerable children from harm were horrified with the deaths of four children in four months — all of whom were known to the Florida Department of Children & Families.
But that was a fraction of the real number. Twenty children died in that same period. All were known to DCF, some of whom also were known to the community-based-care providers the agency has contracted to deliver services. The figure reveals one stark fact. DCF and its agencies lack any transparency, quality assurance, data and accountability. Furthermore, that their deaths were revealed only after a major news organization made a public records request is an abomination that smacks of a cover-up.
How will DCF respond? DCF administrators have promised “transformation,” a process they believe will right their wayward ship. Advocates aren’t convinced.
Neither are lawmakers. Florida Sen. Eleanor Sobel recently held a town hall meeting to learn more. What attendees discovered is that these deaths are the tip of the iceberg of systemic problems stemming from a failed experiment. Privatization has resulted in too many providers in each community, with too little accountability and too many children falling through the cracks. These often are children whose parents lost their parental rights.
Furthermore, DCF killed its oversight of the community-based-care agencies three years ago. So we’re left to rely on the aggressive investigative efforts of the news media.
The abuse suffered by all 20 of these children was known or had been reported to DCF. But only in death have their situations become clear to the public. This is wrong.
Hopefully, Sobel’s town Hall will further shed light on these practices — and improve the care and safety of Florida’s most vulnerable children.
Howard M. Talenfeld, president and founder, Florida’s Children First,