The Miami Herald’s March 16 investigative report, Innocents lost, which examines the deaths of 477 children who were known to be at risk by the Department of Children & Families, shockingly revealed the abysmal failure of DCF and its community partners to protect these children.
As DCF reduced the number of children in its dangerous, burgeoning out-of-home care system from 50,000 in 2002 to 16,000, it failed, along with its private partners, to take action to protect the children that investigators determined were in harm’s way.
Interim DCF Secretary Esther Jacobo has been open to seeking collaborative solutions to address these failures, and the Florida Legislature is considering several measures that could create the reforms advocates have been demanding for years to protect both children in the community and those taken into state care, as well.
Under current law, when state workers investigate reports of abuse, they must close their investigations within 60 days, no matter the finding of future risk. Proposed legislation would require lead agencies to monitor safety plans with interventions and services specifically tailored for each child and family beyond the 60-day investigation period if protective investigators determine that there is high risk to children in future.
Additionally, the Legislature needs to ensure that children who are placed in state care are also safe from the dangers of overcrowded foster care, including child-on-child sexual abuse, and have permanent families in one year, as state law requires.
Florida must protect both the children in the community and those who must be in state custody.
It’s not just DCF’s and its community partners’ job, it is their moral and legal obligation.
Howard Talenfeld, president, Florida’s Children First,