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Fla. Child Death Review Committee Starts Considering Implementation Of New Changes


The committee tasked with taking a broader approach to reduce preventable child abuse-related deaths is set to have its first face-to-face meeting at the end of this month, since a new child welfare law took effect last month. They had their first logistical meeting with its new members this past week.

The Florida Child Abuse Death Review Committee has been around for several years. But this year, they’re expected to follow a new law that took effect in July.  It overhauls the state’s child welfare agency, after a bill passed during this year’s Legislative Session.

After a series of investigations by the Miami Herald, state lawmakers looked into how to address a spate of child abuse-related deaths that occurred under the watch of the Florida Department of Children and Families.

Rep. Gayle Harrell (R-Stuart) was tasked with working on the legislation in the House. She says with these new changes, the state child abuse death review committee will be looking at more than just verified deaths in Florida.

“Previously, they were only looking at verified child abuse deaths, and now the new legislation asks them to review all deaths where there has been a report to the hotline from birth to 18. So, it’s a broader base,” said Harrell.

And, Mary Beth Vickers told that same thing to members of state child abuse death review committee Thursday. She’s with the Florida Department of Health—which formed the committee—and leads the 18-member panel as well. Still, Vickers says while there will be an emphasis on a broader approach in the future, that won’t be happening for the 2013 report.

“Historically, we’ve been looking at verified deaths. Moving forward, we will have two data sets: both verified as well as alleged,” said Vickers. “Now, I will tell you for the purpose of the October report this year, we will only be focusing on verified-those verified for 2013, because the new legislation did not become effective until July 1. So, after this year’s report, we will have two separate data sets that we’ll be looking at.”

Also, as part of the new approach, the committee will now be staffed with an epidemiologist from the state health department, who will further assist in analyzing all the data received, says DOH’s General Counsel Jan Myrick.

“What is hoped is by having the guidance of a professional epidemiologist, the data will become more meaningful, and the committee can start to identify trends, causes, and factors so that the committee will make the recommendations that results in the ultimate intent of the statute, which is to reduce the amount of child deaths by child abuse,” said Myrick.

Many of the panel’s new members—made up of medical, law enforcement, and social services backgrounds—had a similar question: How will all this work? And, Myrick says it will be a process.

The new law calls for the creation of what’s called Critical Incident Rapid Response Teams to determine the root cause of the child abuse death and report those findings on DCF’s website. Then, one of the 23 local child death review committees will come together and conduct their own review of the child death, later developing prevention campaigns and preparing recommendations for local communities.

After, they’ll submit those findings to the state committee, and with the assistance of the epidemiologist, analyze any changes needed to be made on the executive level or by way of new legislation.

And, already, Representative Gayle Harrell has a couple of suggestions.

She says while both the child death review committees and the critical response teams are crucial to the process, she’ll likely look into filing a bill that might further clarify their roles.

“Well, I think the legislature is very concerned about child deaths, and we may need some legislation next year to really clarify the differences between the two, and to make sure that we’re not duplicating. That is truly what we want to do as we move forward. The goal of course is to prevent as many child deaths as possible,” said Harrell.

While there was support on the panel for having an epidemiologist, some suggested taking it a step further and figuring out a way to evaluate the success of other states prevention efforts—which is expected to be discussed at their face-to-face meeting August 28th.

The committee will also be considering making changes to its guidelines for local and state committees, with a goal of reviewing those guidelines every two years.

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter: @SaschaCordner.

Sascha Cordner has more than ten years of public radio experience. It includes working at NPR member station WUFT-FM in Gainesville for several years. She's worked in both radio and TV, serving in various capacities as a reporter, producer and anchor. She's also a graduate of the University of Florida with a bachelor's degree in telecommunications. She is the recipient of 15 awards from the Associated Press, Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), and Edward R. Murrow. Her award-winning stories include her coverage on the infamous “Dozier School for Boys” and a feature titled "Male Breast Cancer: Lost in the Sea of Pink." Currently, Sascha serves as the host and producer of local and state news content for the afternoon news program "All Things Considered" at WFSU. Sascha primarily covers criminal justice and social services issues. When she's not reporting, Sascha likes catching up on her favorite TV shows, singing and reading. Follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter:@SaschaCordner.