Miami-Dade County commissioners urged Gov. Rick Scott and the Legislature Tuesday to reform the state’s troubled child protection system, invoking the gruesome death last month of a 4-year-old boy.
In a resolution they adopted unanimously, commissioners called on Scott, lawmakers and Department of Children & Families Secretary Mike Carroll to empanel a committee of experts to investigate, review and recommend changes in law and policy to protect children throughout Florida from the type of preventable harm that took the life of Javon Dade Jr. The youngster was mauled to death by dogs outside his father’s Goulds home last month. One of the dogs was a pit bull terrier.
Though pit bulls and similar dogs have been banned in Miami-Dade since 1989, DCF investigators took no action in 2011 when the agency was told Javon was in danger because his father kept six dogs, two of them pit bulls, and had failed to train them, the Miami Herald reported. The boy’s father, also named Javon Dade, was dealing cocaine out of his house, carrying a gun, and had been violent toward Javon’s mother and visitors to their house, DCF was told.
Dade also had been had been arrested 18 times since 2000 — almost all of the arrests for cocaine or marijuana possession or battery.
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Javon was among about 500 children who died of abuse or neglect in Florida over the past six years after the state had received abuse or neglect reports concerning a caregiver. Their stories are detailed in a Miami Herald series, Innocents Lost.
In an interview with the newspaper, Carroll said agency investigators were unaware the dogs were not allowed in Miami-Dade.
“Secretary Carroll … acknowledged that child welfare investigators must be cognizant of laws which affect the [welfare] of persons the agency is charged with protecting,” said the resolution, sponsored by Chairwoman Rebeca Sosa. “An expert committee tasked with the objective of recommending changes to state law, administrative regulations or DCF policy in order to prevent this type of tragedy from occurring again would greatly benefit the welfare of Florida’s youth.”
Specifically, the resolution calls on the governor and Legislature to:
▪ Make at-risk young people a priority by putting in place the provisions of Senate Bill 1666, DCF overhaul legislation that was passed unanimously by the Legislature last spring.
▪ Improve legal training for DCF investigators, and “forge stronger relationships with local law enforcement officers, to ensure that investigators are educated, thorough and proficient in their duties.”
Commissioners also agreed to lobby lawmakers and the governor, and to include DCF reform in the county’s 2015 legislative package.
No lobbying will be necessary to better protect children, Scott said Tuesday. “What happened to Javon is a tragedy, and I have directed DCF to immediately review and enact these recommendations,” he said. “We appreciate the work the County Commission is doing to protect children.”
The department is “working tirelessly” to get the legislation implemented, and to increase training for its employees, Carroll said.
Sosa said the parade of tragedies in recent years has largely resulted from poor training.
“I'm very concerned,” Sosa said of the children’s deaths. “It’s one after the other.”
“I know they've allocated more funding. I know they’e hired more people. That’s not enough,” she said.
Miami Herald reporter Patricia Mazzei contributed to this report.