The Nov. 3 editorial, Abuse, child deaths continue, says that in the wake of the deaths of 25 children known by the Florida Department of Children & Families to be potentially at risk, the agency “should declare immediately that DCF’s policy of keeping families together — no matter what, it seems — can no longer be its overriding policy if children in mortal danger are to be rescued from their abusers.”
There is no doubt that DCF needs desperately to revamp its child protection system as there is no excuse for a single death of a child where there are red flags known to DCF investigators. However, the best practice is to always try to keep children in their homes if it can be done so safely.
DCF’s interim secretary Esther Jacobo has agreed that its current risk assessment instrument used to determine which children are truly at risk is flawed. Further, there is little evidence in many of the recent deaths that DCF and its community partners implemented protective services, including intensive case management. With appropriate help and support, many families will be able to safely care for their children when they are watched closely to see if such services address the problems. For others, the risk may be too high, and these children must immediately be protected by being placed in the supervision of DCF and its community partners.
However, let’s not forget that just over 10 years ago, some 50,000 children were in DCF’s care. Some children were being harmed by physical and sexual abuse in an overcrowded, dysfunctional foster system. Other children were stuck in this system for many years and endured the permanent scars of emotional neglect. There were others like Rilya Wilson and 400 other children who were lost or missing.
Somewhere in between the family and “the system” there must be a workable solution — appropriately funded by Florida’s Legislature — where children are protected and the state of Florida does not become the parent to 50,000 children that it cannot care for without neglecting or re-abusing them.
Howard M. Talenfeld, president and founder, Florida’s Children First, Fort Lauderdale