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Book: DCF Secretary Poppell's 'Children Make False Claims' Comment Shines Light On Department's Culture

Lauren Book

A comment by Florida Department of Children and Families Secretary Chad Poppell is still riling members of the Senate’s Children and Families Committee. None more so than Committee Chairwoman Lauren Book.

Poppell claimed during a recent presentation to lawmakers that “sometimes children make false claims" as he attempted to explain the extremely low investigation rates of sex abuse claims involving foster parents. Book is a child sex abuse survivor.

“People do make false claims," Poppell said explaining the figures first reported in a USA Today series last year.

"Sometimes children make false claims because they want to change their placement. Sometimes the bio parent makes claims…but I think when you look at the numbers and see zero on that young age group and based on what we know in general, that’s concerning and it concerns me greatly," Poppell said.

Book pushed back on the assertion regarding children during the meeting.

“Young children, when they disclose abuse, they don’t lie. These are pieces of information they can’t make up unless they’ve had to live through or endure," she told him.

In a Tuesday interview with WFSU, Book expounded on her comments, calling Poppell's remarks "insulting" and adding,

“I think that shines a light on a culture piece at the department that we’re going to have to dig into and work to try to fix.”

Book suggests DCF has become so decentralized, that some of its own leaders have become de-sensitized. She’s planning to change that through a series of measures aimed at increasing accountability in the agency and in its private partners. Book also has the know-how in place to do some big reforms. The Senate’s Children and Families committee features a bench of lawmakers with deep knowledge of child welfare, mental health and substance abuse policy in the state.

In addition to looking closely at DCF, Book is also planning to address a recent state audit by the Office of Program Policy and Analysis (OPPAGA) that raised concerns about the state's Guardian Ad Litem program. The GAL is designed for volunteers to act as advocates for children in foster care, but the audit found as GAL's budget has grown, the agency has served fewer kids.

“I know the Guardian ad Litem program is one that’s been supported and championed for a long time and does good work, but perhaps we’ve got to take a little bit of a deeper dive into some of the things that are happening there," said Book.

The committee meets again on Jan. 26th.

Follow @HatterLynn

Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas.  She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. 

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