Letters to the Editor

Community investment key to protecting children

Keeping children safe and stable is the most important element of the child welfare system. The children and families involved are facing multiple challenges, and despite diligent oversight, services, and support, tragedies still occur

The Oct. 24 story, As Broward child wasted away, protectors looked but didn’t see, centers on the tragic death of Tamiyah Audain, a 12-year-old girl involved in the child welfare system, who died on Sept. 25. At the time of her death, while living with a relative, Tamiyah suffered from severe physical and development disabilities, including Tuberous Sclerosis, autism, seizures, developmental and speech delays.

The death of any child is a tragedy whether they are involved in the child welfare system or not and we continue to grieve the loss of a child like Tamiyah. We take the immense responsibility of protecting Florida’s most vulnerable children extremely seriously.

In the year since Tamiyah’s death, ChildNet not only completed a thorough internal review and underwent a DCF review with Children’s Medical Services, Guardian ad Litem, Broward Sheriff’s Office Child Protection Investigative Section, and the Child Protection Team, but we also sought the Child Welfare League of America to complete an external review to improve Broward’s Child Welfare System.

With the ongoing engagement of our community partners, we have actively implemented the recommendations offered in the CWLA review to better serve children with complex needs who are involved in multiple systems. Recommendations such as improved communication with partners, additional staff training, and engagement with the caregiver have been addressed through regular cross-system meetings, additional oversight for medically complex cases, and implementation of safety methodology framework, which examines the family dynamic more thoroughly.

The CWLA also recommended reducing case manager caseloads to the best practice standard of 12 to 1. ChildNet fully supports this recommendation, but is unable to achieve this ratio without additional state funding that would support the cost of hiring more case managers. Over the past five years, ChildNet Broward’s core funding has been cut by $7 million and yet, the organization is serving 657 more children than it did two years ago. We will continue to advocate for adequate funding from Florida’s Legislature to support additional case manager positions.

As the community-based care lead agency responsible for the child welfare system in Broward and Palm Beach Counties, we implore residents to help us care for our communities’ most vulnerable population. You can make a difference by advocating for adequate funding for the child welfare system, opening your heart and home by becoming a foster or adoptive parent, or providing in-kind or financial support to foster care agencies.

Together we can improve the care of abused, abandoned, and neglected children in Florida.

Emilio Benitez, president and CEO, ChildNet, Broward and Palm Beach Counties