Apparently the largest group of child abusers in Florida is in Tallahassee when the Florida Legislature is in session. For at least a decade, governors and lawmakers have routinely starved the Department of Children & Families of even its meager funding, and have then gone to sleep quite soundly while children in state care are brutalized and killed.
In the 30 years I have lived in Florida, there has yet to be a DCF secretary appointed with professional education and experience in child welfare and with a national reputation for outstanding leadership and spirited advocacy for vulnerable children. There always have been just political appointees, many of whom apparently hardly even knew what a child looked like.
The perhaps well-intended amateurs need to be moved out of DCF. A new, dynamic, child-welfare professional must be hired and given free rein to completely dismantle and restructure the agency. This would include hiring experienced and professional social workers into field and supervisory positions. Studies have shown that professional social workers perform better in the area of child welfare and their retention rate is higher. It will also cost the state more in salaries for these professionals. But the work is complex. It is not just a matter of checking off boxes on a form.
Well-meaning people have served on various blue-ribbon committees, but few had members who could claim professional education, experience, and leadership in the area of child welfare services. The governor and Legislature need to be prepared to increase DCF’s budget in order to hire experienced, professional social workers with a commitment to the field and to appropriate standards and a code of ethics.
Still, there is little reason to think elected leaders will change and provide the leadership and resources necessary to reform DCF. So, the time has come to prepare a lawsuit in federal court to sue the state for its failures to protect our most vulnerable children. The court would be asked to remove DCF from state supervision and appoint a master who would report directly to the court.
The children of Florida cannot wait any longer for yet another set of recommendations, many that the state has ignored for years, resulting in countless children’s deaths that should never have happened.
Paul C. Hunt, South Miami