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August 13, 2012 permalink
Florida law requires that foster children visit a dentist twice a year. But as a newspaper reports, that law is not followed in practice. In dental care, and many other areas, merely mandating a benefit by law does not cause it to happen. Another example: moving a child into a home legally dubbed place of safety. Calling it a place of safety doesn't make it one.
Officials: foster care system frequently neglects dental needs
Nearly 40 percent of Palm Beach County’s foster kids have gone six months or more without dental checkups, although Florida law mandates that children in state custody get seen by a dentist twice a year, state officials say.
Child welfare officials said inadequate oversight by case managers responsible for taking foster children to the dentist, as well as a shortage of dentists willing to treat Medicaid patients, contributed to the backlog in Palm Beach County and across the state.
“A large part is simply that (the children) have not been seen, that there hasn’t been an appointment made or a regular follow-up,” said Elisa Cramer, spokeswoman for the Department of Children and Families. “And for children in care, a lot of them have not been seen ever.”
Cramer said the agencies that manage foster care cases for DCF — Child and Family Connections and the Children’s Home Society — are supposed to keep track of every child’s medical and dental visits.
But oversight of these appointments hasn’t been consistent among case management agencies, said Stephen Brady, executive director of the Children’s Home Society. “It’s been one of those things between medical (appointments) and immunizations that we probably haven’t looked at as closely as we should have,” Brady said.
DCF has been monitoring dental records of the state’s foster children since November, after Sec. David Wilkins launched a statewide scorecard to evaluate how community agencies are keeping up with their case management responsibilities. This is one of several initiatives created by Wilkins after the death of Miami-Dade foster child Nubia Barahona.
“Because we are tracking it, I would say they are doing a better job of it,” said DCF spokeswoman Erin Gillespie.
While investigating Nubia’s death and the burning of her brother Victor Barahona, officials found that Victor and two of his adoptive siblings had “deplorable” dental conditions. “All the children, including Victor, have gigantic craters in their teeth,” health department physician Walter Lambert told a Miami-Dade family court judge at the time.
Gillespie said that access to dental care for foster children is an issue in other regions, as well.
To deal with the shortfall in Palm Beach County, DCF is reaching out to local dentists willing to volunteer and treat hundreds of children who would otherwise go without a routine cleaning. Cramer said DCF is working with several community agencies to set up free dental clinics for foster children.
The first of these clinics will be held Aug. 18 at FoundCare Health Center, 2330 S. Congress Ave., in Palm Springs. Dentists are still needed to provide services at this event.
The other clinics will take place Sept. 15 and Oct. 20.
Brady said that with the free clinics and more oversight of the case management process, he hopes every foster child in Palm Beach County will eventually get routine dental exams. “We’ve got a few irons in the fire and I figure if everybody can do a little bit, then it all adds up to getting the job done,” Brady said.
Free dental clinics for foster children
When: 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Aug. 18, Sept. 15 and Oct. 20.
Where: FoundCare Health Center, 2330 S. Congress Ave., Palm Springs.
How: To volunteer or for information about the clinics, call Stephen Brady, executive director of the Children’s Home Society, at (561) 868-4330.
Source: Palm Beach Post