CALL TO ACTION: FOSTER CARE

Asking tough questions to save a child

 
 
MAZE
MAZE

cmaze@fostercarereview.org

When Esther Jacobo became interim secretary of the Department of Children &Families last July, she told her colleagues: “It is important to take a unified and community approach to protecting our children.” She also said child-welfare professionals must question each other constantly — “We must question each other’s judgment calls, decisions and choices because the lives of children are at stake.”

She underscored the challenge of effectively engaging in child-protection work, saying that, “These are complex families and situations and they require sophisticated, deliberate analysis.”

Jacobo accurately assessed the intense challenges of child-welfare work. In the wake of news about children who have died because of system-wide failures, it is clear that so much more needs to be done to reach our goals for protecting our most vulnerable young neighbors.

In some of these tragedies there were gross negligence and absolute disregard for agency standards and policies. In many cases, though, the death was mostly the result of a failure to conduct a “deliberate analysis” and to “question each other’s judgment calls, decisions and choices.”

Effective and sophisticated case evaluations demand sufficient time and resources to gather critical documentation and to interview children, parents, relatives, service providers, and others. It requires asking difficult questions and challenging assumptions in order to ensure the safety and well-being of children.

In Miami, the Citizen Review Panel Program, operated for 25 years by Foster Care Review, Inc., is empowered by state law to ask the hard questions and methodically assess children’s safety, permanency and well-being. The program is a partnership between Foster Care Review’s expert staff and almost 100 dedicated, trained community volunteers.

Every year, the Citizen Review Panel Program conducts 400 to 500 live case-review hearings and determines as clearly as possible whether children in foster care are safe and well cared for. Volunteers also determine if all is being done by the child welfare agencies to safely reunify children with their families or secure a ‘forever family’ through adoption if reunification is no longer possible.

Citizen-panel volunteers bring the eyes, ears and voices of the community into the system by questioning everything and everyone connected with each child reviewed. The panel’s five to seven members interview foster parents, case managers, relative caregivers, parents and children. They ask pointed and specific questions and spend nearly an hour per child culling out inconsistencies, discrepancies and issues needing further attention.

In addition the Foster Care Review staff members spend hours reviewing case documents, medical reports, mental-health and school records, providing vital support and expertise to the volunteers. At the conclusion of the review hearing, a report of findings and recommended orders is provided to the judge and the parties, which then become binding court orders.

The Citizen Review Panel process provides thorough, quality information to the judge, the case manager and those in supervisory positions by identifying the most pressing needs and concerns.

The volunteers do not have a caseload or a stake in the outcome of the case.

They conduct that “deliberate, sophisticated analysis” and detail a road map for promoting long-term stability and well-being for each child reviewed.

The Citizen Review Panel Program adds a cost-effective and critical layer of oversight to an overburdened system.

We provide a necessary checks-and-balances approach to fact-finding, and the conclusions we make are valuable tools for judicial decision-making in the most complex foster-care cases.

Many states employ citizen review panels or foster care review boards statewide. This is not the case in Florida. While Florida law permits Citizen Review Panels, they exist only in Miami-Dade and Collier counties.

Obviously there is room for growth of this important community service.

This model should be used to its fullest potential to promote the safety of all of the most vulnerable children throughout our diverse state.

No legislative changes or major resources are required.

All that is necessary is collaboration of each Circuit’s dependency court judiciary and child welfare system stakeholders to partner with willing and able members of the community.

The result will be just what Jacobo spoke about with great hope and determination — more eyes on each case identifying unmet needs, asking difficult questions, challenging assumptions in order to keep children safe and well.

With its wealth of experience and expertise, Foster Care Review, Inc. stands ready to support this effort.

Candice Maze is executive director of Foster Care Review, Inc.

Read more Other Views stories from the Miami Herald

  • In My Opinion

    When journalism is too good to be true

    When a Gallup poll this summer showed that 80 percent of Americans have little faith in the news media, there was a good deal of consternation in U.S. newsrooms. Some of it came from me. We’re used to getting called liars by the hucksters and connivers and knaves we write about. But it’s pretty frustrating to hear that readers don’t trust us, either.

  •  
MONTANER

    WORLD AFFAIRS

    Past looms large in Islamist outlook

    The radical Islamists want to kill Pope Francis, according to the Italian daily Il Tempo. I’m not surprised. The permanent enemy of these anachronistic characters is Christianity, not the Jews.

  • VOTING & RACE

    Finding justice on racial issues through the ballot

    The eyes of America remain focused on Ferguson, Missouri, gripped by the aftermath of Michael Brown’s death. The anguish of Ferguson — from the murder of an unarmed young person of color, to the lack of accountability fueled by a sheer disregard for black lives — is all too familiar for Florida.

Miami Herald

Join the
Discussion

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category