FORT LAUDERDALE, FL--(Marketwired - March 17, 2014) - A Herald investigation into the deaths of 477 children known to be at risk by the Florida Department of Children and Families has launched a widespread call for an overhaul at DCF and how the agency protects Florida at-risk youth.
Already, several measures are advancing through the Florida House and Senate that could create reforms advocates have been demanding for years. Advocates applaud Legislators' actions -- and are calling for more.
"It's tragic that it took an investigation by a Carol Marbin Miller, a Herald reporter, to uncover this pattern of death spanning years throughout Florida," said Howard Talenfeld, a well known child advocate. Talenfeld testified last Tuesday before the Florida Senate Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee. "We applaud the Florida Legislature for prioritizing the reformation of Florida's child protection system to avoid these tragedies. But the kids need more."
In addition to the Florida Senate's current proposals, Talenfeld highlighted three key areas of additional reform:
1. Oversight of Safety Plans. Under current Florida law, when state workers investigate reports of abuse, they MUST close their investigations within 60 days, no matter the finding of risk. Proposed legislation needs to require a safety plan with interventions and services specifically tailored for each child or family. The lead agency must continue oversight of children and families when protective investigators find high future risk to children beyond the 60-day period.
2. Addressing widespread child-on-child sexual abuse of children in state care. After the suicide of seven year old Gabriel Myers, a victim of sexual abuse, a DCF statewide review panel made recommendations in 2010 to provide necessary, quality therapy and services to all children who are sexually abused, to track the sexual abuse of children in care, and to provide future oversight and the accumulation of data in Florida to address child-on-child sexual abuse when children are in state care. Under current law, reports of abuse to the DCF Hotline not referred to DCF and its lead agencies but are referred only to law enforcement for children 13 through 18. Two bills, SB 1404 and HB 1263 would require reports of child-on-child sexual abuse be sent also to the lead agencies and juvenile court for purposes of providing services and protecting all children in care.
3. Legal representation of Disabled Children. The September 2013 death of an autistic and severely disabled Broward County child who was malnourished never received Medicaid Waiver services while two agencies bickered as to which one was responsible. Two bills, SB 972 and HB 561 would require providing attorneys through the Guardian Ad Litem program for disabled children for dependency court and administrative hearings regarding eligibility for and obtaining services, special education and social security disability benefits. This would also help shorten their average time in the system from an average of 60 months, and improve their chances for permanent placement before they're 18. Otherwise, they often end up in group homes for the rest of their lives.
The number of deaths of children who were known to be at high future risk is horrific. The rates of physical and sexual abuse of those who still are in the system mean thousands more kids are at risk. These additional reforms are necessary in the hope that the Florida Legislature will address systemic deficiencies and deliver real, lasting reform for the sake of the children.
About Colodny, Fass, Talenfeld, Karlinsky, Abate & Webb, P.A.
Colodny, Fass, Talenfeld, Karlinsky, Abate & Webb, P.A. is a full-service firm focusing on insurance regulatory law, government relations, commercial litigation and administrative law, with offices in Fort Lauderdale and Tallahassee. The Firm's litigation practice group also handles civil rights, employment discrimination and child advocacy matters on both the trial and appellate levels. For more information, visit www.cftlaw.com or call (954) 492-4010 or (850) 577-0398 in Tallahassee.