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Misdirected Anger in Florida

August 21, 2013 permalink

Florida is undergoing an outburst of anger over child deaths, deaths of children known to the child protection system. A recent sidebar in the Miami Herald (in the expand block) lists 20 such children dying since April. The anger has reached the legislature, captured in the first enclosed article and the attached video (local copy, flv).

A campaign like this is not directed from the top. The head of Florida DCF, David Wilkins, has already lost his job over the revelations. We can speculate that social workers, hoping to get more money from the legislature, are cooperating with journalists to supply timely information about child deaths. A technical note below shows what to expect should policy changes increase the rate of child removal from parents.

Technical Note

Imagine a region with a million children. Under conditions prevailing throughout the US and Canada, about one percent are in foster care, 10,000 foster children. The children in parental care will perish at a rate of 28 per hundred thousand, 277 deaths in our example. The children in foster care perish at ten times the parental rate, 280 per hundred thousand, 28 deaths. So even though the death rate in foster care is ten times as high, the number of deaths in parental care is about ten times as high. The Florida example of 20 deaths shows 18 in the care of at least one parent, 1 in foster care and one with ambiguous wording.

The higher death rate in foster care is the result of an immutable fact of human nature — parents take better care of their own children than the children of strangers. It is called the Cinderella effect. Child protectors are powerless to alter this through regulation. So what will happen when a foster care panic develops, doubling the number of children in foster care? Now the deaths in parental care will be 274 while those in foster care will be 56. In tabular form,

Deaths before foster panic:
parental care: 277
foster care: 28
total: 305
Deaths after foster panic:
parental care: 274
foster care: 56
total: 330

Twenty five more deaths after the foster care panic.

The analysis above will not be part of the solution arrived at in Florida. The emotional outbursts by legislators will lead only to increases in the removal of children from their parents. Policy makers and a public both suffering from innumeracy will find the only solution to the problem that makes the situation even worse.



Names of dead children invoked at hearing to reform DCF

One by one, Florida Sen. Eleanor Sobel read the names or initials of 20 children — children who died this summer while on the radar of the state’s embattled child welfare agency.

Some were beaten savagely. Others suffocated or drowned. One was strangled, and another run over by a car,.

The listing of the dead was a dramatic way to launch a town hall meeting designed to bring reforms and save lives.

The Tuesday night meeting, at Broward College’s South Campus, drew a crowd of hundreds of judges, city officials, police officers, children’s advocates and foster parents. At least 15 lawmakers sat shoulder to shoulder on the dais, listening.

“We have a moral imperative to save lives,” said Sobel, who organized the event.

The Miami Herald reported Sunday that, since mid-April, at least 20 children known to the Department of Children & Families have died, mostly from abuse or neglect, some of them in particularly brutal ways. Faced with the rising toll, Sobel, a Hollywood Democrat who chairs the Senate’s Children, Families & Elder Affairs, convened a town hall to ask hard questions about DCF’s ability to meet its mandate of protecting children from danger.

The nearly three-hour discussion — extended twice to accommodate the number of speakers — offered a variety of suggestions, ranging from better state funding to better treatment of caseworkers and investigators. Legislators walked away with specific changes they can make to child welfare laws in the upcoming Legislative season.

Looking straight at the panel of lawmakers — and raising his voice with emotion — Walter Lambert, the top doctor with Miami’s Child Protection Team, which evaluates children for abuse or neglect, told the legislators they bore some culpability for the cluster of recent deaths.

“The Legislature is responsible to fund the system appropriately,” said Lambert to loud applause. “It is on the Legislature to give the appropriate funding to do the job.’’

The CPT, which includes doctors, nurses and social workers trained to detect child abuse and neglect, sustained deep budget cuts, Lambert said, at the very time that a nationwide economic downturn was resulting in increased — and increasingly more severe —abuse and neglect.

A Broward County judge who said she has seen the grim consequence of an under-funded social service system echoed Lambert’s concerns.

“We have to fund social services in this state, and we have the courage to transform it,” said Judge Ginger Lerner Wren, who presides over mental health cases. Lerner Wren congratulated the state of Texas for improving its spending on human services spending when it was ranked dead last in the nation. Of Florida, she added: “We were 49th. Guess where we are now?’’

In what has become a deadly summer, nearly two dozen children have died at the hands of their caregivers in cases where DCF had been alerted at least once that the children were in danger.

After four children died over a stretch of six weeks — all but one from South Florida — DCF Secretary David Wilkins resigned and was replaced by interim secretary Esther Jacobo. The number of known child deaths dramatically increased to at least 20 over the next several months, including an infant who died last week.

The speakers did not talk only about funding. Several criticized what some view as DCF’s lack of openness about child deaths — and policies that may contribute to them. Some accused agency administrators and lawmakers of a lack of urgency.

Pat McCabe, a foster parent, took off work early from his job to attend to the hearing. In an emotional speech, he challenged the legislators to feel as angry as he did. “I am here to represent the outrage,’’ said McCabe, who along with his wife foster three children. “There is no excuse as to what has happened. There is a lack of funding and a lack of accountability.’’

Jeannette Miley, who has spent more than 30 years treating disabled children at the Children’s Diagnostic and Treatment Center, which serves disabled children, said her program has been frustrated by DCF lawyers who insist they lack the authority to remove children from abusive or neglectful parents — including children who became disabled due to their mother’s drug addiction.

“We’ve got a criminal history for the father; we’ve got a criminal history for the mother; and the baby is born addicted,” Miley said. “Should we protect the child, or give the parents another chance?” she asked.

Investigators should give parents another chance, Miley said, but only “when the child has been safely removed.”

As the number of deaths escalated, Jacobo ordered a review of all child fatalities cause by abuse or neglect and invited a national organization to scrutinize those findings.

“We are getting help with examining what may have gone wrong,’’ she said. “The more eyes on a child, the better the decisions are, the better decisions we can make.”

Source: Miami Herald

The article below is a sidebar from another article in the Miami Herald giving the circumstances of twenty recent child deaths.

Young lives snuffed out

Since April 11, at least 20 children with a prior DCF history have died. DCF has not revealed the identities of several of the children.

Jewel Re’nee Howard, 3 years old

Died April 11: The Sarasota girl suffered a torn liver and crushed ribs in a beating allegedly administered by her mother’s boyfriend. Weeks earlier, DCF was told Jewel had sustained a lacerated lip requiring stitches.

D.P., 3 years old

Died April 19: He was playing with other children in Alachua County when he was found drowned in a community pool. He had a DCF history and had been in the custody of an uncle.

Aliyah Marie Branum, 2 years old

Died April 26: Her mom, now charged with first-degree murder in Citrus County, allegedly slammed Aliyah’s head into a wall for ‘whining.’ Aliyah had come to DCF’s attention both in August 2012 and January 2013.

Name unavailable, 2 1/2 months old

Died May 4: When this little girl was born on Feb. 20, both she and her mom had narcotics in their bodies. The Sarasota tot was found dead while reports said her parents continued to abuse pills.

K.S., 4 months old

Died May 7: She was run over in the driveway of a Franklin County home. At the time, DCF was investigating a report that her mother was smoking crack in front of her kids and selling food stamps to pay for drugs.

Name unavailable, 16 years old

Died on or about May 11: A Brevard dad who’d recently regained custody allowed her to leave the state with a 24-year-old boyfriend. A caseworker neglected to report her missing. She died of suspected pneumonia.

Bryan Osceola, 11 months old

Died May 16: He baked to death in his mother’s car. Months earlier, the Miami-Dade mom had passed out drunk behind the wheel with an unsecured Bryan next to her and the engine running. DCF took no action then.

Name, age unavailable

Died on May 23: Found in her mom’s bed in Palm Beach County, suffering a lack of oxygen — possibly as a result of a deadly practice called “co-sleeping” with infants. The family had ‘extensive’ DCF history.

K.F., 4 years old

Died May 27: Lee County boy drowned in a swimming pool with between 10 and 15 adults nearby. Though K.F. couldn’t swim, his mother had gone to the store, assuming other adults were watching him.

Fernando Barahona, 1 year old

Died June 3: Cape Coral boy was strangled weeks after DCF gave him back to his mother, despite suspecting physical abuse in an earlier incident that resulted in two skull fractures.

Name, age unavailable

Died June 4: This child turned ‘blue’ and stopped breathing while in their father’s car in Okaloosa County. Authorities say the child died from abuse. DCF previously investigated a report the child had been abused.

Antwan Hope, 4 years old

Died June 10: Coral Springs child was left alone by the state — against a judge’s orders — with his mentally ill mother who lost custody previously after trying to smother him to death.

Ezra Raphael, 2 years old

Died June 20: North Miami Beach mom abandoned the boy with a Gainesville stranger, then took him back. DCF investigated but didn’t intervene. He was then whipped to death, allegedly by his mother’s boyfriend.

Cherish Perrywinkle, 8 years old

Died June 22: The Jacksonville girl was strangled by a registered sex offender after her mother, a longtime drug abuser, allowed the man to take the little girl from a mall. Cherish’s parents had lengthy DCF histories.

Name unavailable, 2 1/2 years old

Died June 23: He drowned in a Citrus County canal at 10 a.m. while his parents slept. A private social service agency said it had given them locks and safety alarms to prevent such an occurrence. The parents denied that.

Christian Byrd, 2 years old

Died June 24: He drowned in a pool behind a Lehigh Acres daycare center with a DCF history. The owner said she’d left Christian and two other small children unsupervised in the pool while she went to the bathroom.

Jayden Villegas, 2 years old

Died July 21: Police said his father shook the Homestead boy and threw him against a wall. DCF had given Jayden to the father after removing him from his mother. The dad had a history of domestic violence.

Dakota Stiles, 3 years old

Died July 25: He drowned in a slimy, green Vero Beach pool that, only weeks earlier, a DCF investigator had described as ‘exceptionally unsafe… green from disrepair, filthy, filled with unsanitary water and bugs.’

Michael Williams, 7 months old

Died Aug. 9: Living in a battered spouse shelter in Kissimmee, the tot died after eating a laundry detergent pod. DCF acknowledged having ‘prior history’ with the family, but has yet to release the details.

Yvonne Bailey, 1 year old

Died Aug. 14: Burned by drug-abusing parents, the Sanford girl was put in foster care, then with a relative who — despite instructions to the contrary — gave her to another relative whose husband allegedly killed her.

Source: Miami Herald