Florida Department of Children and Families officials say the deaths of four children in six weeks in May and June have led to meaningful changes in the organization. But the agency’s critics say the fixes don’t go far enough.
The Florida Department of Children and Families is retraining more than 5,000 case workers in an effort to stave off future deaths of children in the agency’s care. But DCF Secretary David Wilkins says there’s no guarantee a child will never die on their watch again:
“We are dealing with dysfunctional families. On average a child dies every day in Florida from abuse and neglect. Most people don’t realize that, but that’s the reality that is happening," Wilkins said.
Robin Rosenberg with the advocacy group Florida’s Children First, says while the additional training is a step in the right direction, she believes a bigger issue is a lack of transparency when kids die:
“I think the public and the child welfare community need to have better knowledge and really be looking at what are we learning and how are we appropriately responding to deaths?”
The changes DCF is putting in place now are a response to a 2011 case where a child was killed by her foster parents, despite numerous reports of abuse to the department.
Meanwhile the agency has managed to exceeded its goal of recruiting more than 1200 new foster parents. DCF began the push because too many children were in group homes. But that problem persists.
“Over the years we’ve reduced the number of kids in foster care from a number in the 30,000 to today we have 17,000. But today we still have 25 percent in group care. We’ve got to find more foster parents, but not just more, but quality foster parents," Wilkins said.
A child enters foster care when they are removed by the state from their parents. Teenagers and sibling groups are more likely to reside in group homes, while younger children are more likely to be fostered by a family and adopted. But foster care is expensive, and for the past several years the Department has been focusing on offering troubled families counseling and other support services so children can stay in their homes.
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