If we don’t know about it, it doesn’t exist. That’s been the state of Florida’s philosophy on just about everything that should be in the public eye — from abuses at assisted-living facilities to Gov. Scott’s private emails dealing with public business.
So it comes as absolutely no shock that state officials have quietly, diligently — and, despite protests to the contrary — deliberately turned out the lights that illuminate what has gone wrong when a child dies in the care of the Department of Children & Families.
Child-death reviews, required by federal law and once detailed and meticulous have become vague reports full of uncritical boilerplate language, revealing little, if anything, of what went wrong. The most dogged death investigators determined to get to the bottom of each case have been purged, silenced. So have the most vocal advocates for DCF integrity who sat on the state’s Child Abuse Death Review Committee. In fact, the Committee itself is just a shadow of its former self and, according to a recent story by Herald investigative writer Carol Marbin Miller, mention of its existence has been eliminated from the state Department of Health’s website.
None of this is any coincidence. This is business as usual in a state in which secrecy and know-nothingness are the guiding principles of too many elected officials and bureaucrats. In this latest instance of sweeping bad news under the rug, it leaves children living with abusive and neglectful adults in danger — again.
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During this year’s legislative session those same lawmakers, bureaucrats — even Gov. Scott — declared it a new day in how Florida cares for endangered children. What moved them off the dime — literally and figuratively was the Miami Herald’s painstaking — and painful — series that detailed the deaths of almost 500 children and young teens who over the years not only died at the hands of cruel and neglectful guardians, but who also were known to DCF caseworkers as being at risk.
Even the most recalcitrant lawmakers who would have been content to cut DCF’s budget, again, could not ignore the stories of horror meted out on their watch. State Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, stepped up as chair of the Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee and, with the heft of like-minded colleagues, got major reforms approved.
Finally, the Legislature put on the books that children’s safety and well-being are to be placed above the rights of parents accused of abuse and neglect. Lawmakers demanded more transparency from agency administrators and a website to track child deaths.
But before the year was out, state officials apparently decided that transparency was making them look bad. Indeed, it has.
Of course, they look worse now that they have drawn the blackout curtains in a flagrant attempt to leave the public, including the media, in the dark — and children at the mercy of extremely bad parenting.
The stealthy disappearance of oversight and death reviews means that there will be no lessons learned, no remedial action taken, because valuable information is not being collected. It means bureaucrats at fault will not be held accountable. It means children will continue to die.
This is a disgrace and everyone, from Gov. Scott to agency directors to lawmakers who boo-hooed about all of the innocents lost, should declare it so, then make it right. Otherwise those were nothing but crocodile tears shed in embarrassment, not authentic concern.