Florida deadly for kids at risk

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Florida deadly for kids at risk

Post by TomTerrific0420 on Sun Feb 27, 2011 4:53 pm

By Carol Marbin Miller, Miami Herald

In Print: Sunday, February 27, 2011

The details of Nubia Barahona's death are grisly: soaked in toxic
chemicals, decomposed and stuffed in a garbage bag, she was found
rotting on the shoulder of the interstate on Valentine's Day.
Authorities believe she had been stashed in a septic tank for weeks
before her adoptive father dug up her corpse.Statistically,
however, Nubia's story is rather common: She is one of hundreds of
Florida children who died of abuse or neglect during the last decade
after child welfare authorities had performed at least one investigation
into their welfare. Florida not only leads the United States in the
number of such deaths, but it dominates the nation. In the wake
of a controversial decision by child welfare administrators to halve the
number of children taken into state care while, at the same time,
reducing the number of children receiving protective services with their
birth families the number of deceased children with a child
protection investigative history almost doubled, from 35 in 2001 to 69
in 2009. No statistics are available for 2010.Over the past six
years, 41 percent of all children who died of abuse or neglect in
Florida had been the subject of at least one prior contact with child
protection authorities, the state Department of Health reports. The
average for all other states: about 12 percent. In 2008, the
number of Florida children with a history of abuse or neglect reports
who later died made up almost half of the U.S. total.The
statistics are noteworthy because state child welfare workers can only
protect children whose plight comes to their attention. When children
with no history of prior state contact perish, their deaths are equally
tragic but far less preventable.The spike in child deaths with a
prior investigative history occurred during a time of significant change
in state child-welfare policy.Beginning in 2003, when
then-Department of Children and Families Secretary Jerry Regier
initiated a campaign to reduce the number of children in out-of-home
care a campaign that continued under the administrations of DCF
Secretaries Lucy Hadi, Bob Butterworth and George Sheldon the number
of Florida children removed from their parents decreased from 30,200
then to 18,300 currently a 39 percent decline in the yearly total.But
that's only part of the story. The number of Florida children under
so-called protective supervision meaning authorities allowed them to
remain with their parents while caseworkers monitored the home and
provided services geared toward improving safety also declined
dramatically, from 17,300 in 2003 to 7,350 in 2008, the last year for
which such statistics are available. That is a 57 percent decline."In
our quest to reduce the number of children in care or under state
services, the state of Florida has placed children dangerously at risk
and there's no doubt about it,'' said Cheleene B. Schembera, a 27-year
DCF child-welfare administrator and inspector general who worked as a
district administrator in Miami in 2003, just before the state's sea
change began.When a child dies a terrible and preventable death,
said Schembera, who retired and now works as a consultant, observers
always ask: "How did this happen to this particular child? But they
never look at the broader issues,'' she added.
'Methods are strong'Joe
Follick, DCF's Tallahassee spokesman, said administrators had not been
able to review the death statistics, but added: "It is impossible and
dangerous to compare states when the parameters vary so widely.''"Florida
investigates every child's death, while other states do not,'' Follick
said. "We are confident our methods are strong since they allow us to
detect trends that other states do not. Statistics are a wonderful tool,
but when used inappropriately they can provide a terribly skewed and
inaccurate measurement."He added: "Every one of this department's
13,000 employees devotes their life to helping others. Each child's
death is a tragedy that is felt individually and personally. No
statistics can fairly measure this daily commitment and passion.''Nubia
and Victor Docter (their original last name) presented particularly
thorny challenges to Florida's child welfare system. They were taken
from their birth parents in 2004. The twins' mother was a drug addict
and prostitute; their father was charged twice with molestation. They
were placed by DCF caseworkers, and a Miami judge, in the West
Miami-Dade home of Jorge and Carmen Barahona, who later adopted the
children. The Barahonas already had two other children adopted from
foster care.Administrators may well have placed the youngsters in
greater danger, unwittingly. After the twins' adoption, the state's
abuse hotline received four reports that Nubia was being abused and
neglected. Nubia, the state was told, was starving, bruised, dirty,
unkempt, and afraid of her parents. All of the reports were made by
employees of the girl's school, Blue Lakes Elementary. The allegations
all were investigated, and closed as unfounded.DCF's top Miami
administrator, Jacqui Colyer, now acknowledges that, perhaps,
investigators were too quick to accept Carmen Barahona's explanations
for Nubia's condition, and too slow to require that the family submit to
state supervision.
Preserving familiesFew states
have seen the child welfare pendulum swing more dramatically than
Florida. In the late 1990s, state administrators, reeling from a series
of ghastly and controversial deaths, emphasized keeping children safe,
even if it led to larger foster-care caseloads. Following the
Thanksgiving 1998 death of 6-year-old Kayla McKean whose father beat
her to death in a rage because she soiled her underpants, though
authorities had been told repeatedly her life was in danger then-DCF
Secretary Kathleen Kearney declared that protecting at-risk children was
her greatest priority. Foster-care caseloads, as a consequence, rose to
their highest levels, peaking at 35,500 in 2001.But the frantic
removal of children from their birth parents one children's advocate
called it a "foster-care panic'' did little to stanch the tide of
deaths among kids known to the child protection system. Two years later,
when Kearney left the agency, DCF reported the same number of children
with prior abuse or neglect investigations who later died, 35.At
the same time, well-respected children's advocates and research groups,
including the Casey Family Programs, were reporting that states could
reduce the number of children in foster care safely by allowing some
kids to remain with their parents under the watchful eye of case
managers, and with the aid of intensive home services. Advocates called
the approach the "family preservation'' model, and it had the added
virtue of enjoying wide support among real foster kids, many of whom
said their ordeals in state care could, and should, have been avoided.Five
months into his tenure, then-DCF Secretary Jerry Regier who inherited
Kearney's albatross, the aftermath of Miami foster child Rilya Wilson's
disappearance amid a clogged and chaotic foster-care system announced
a new "vision'': a more streamlined agency that protected children by
preserving families. To that end, he said, DCF would reduce the number
of children in state care by 25 percent before the summer of 2004.And
though Florida was the first state in the United States to obtain
special permission from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
to spend federal dollars earmarked for foster care on in-home services,
records show the number of Florida children under state supervision did
not come close to keeping pace with the number of children who were
diverted from foster care. DCF records show that, in fact, the number of
kids under protective supervision declined by 57 percent from 2003
through 2008.And Florida narrowed its child-welfare front door as
well, ramping up a program in which counselors at the state hotline
were encouraged to "screen'' out calls that appeared to fall short of
the definition of abuse or neglect. Some of the calls were screened in
error, and at least one child, 1-year-old Bryce Barros of Broward
County, died in 2009 after three calls from a judge were screened out.What's
more, Florida continued the rapid pace of diverting children from
protective supervision at the very time that the state and, indeed,
the nation suffered through one of the worst recessions in U.S.
history. As agency administrators were reducing caseloads, they were
begging lawmakers to hold their budgets harmless while other state
agencies' budgets were being slashed. Their reasoning: It is common
wisdom that economic stress leads to greater abuse and neglect of
children.In 2008, for example, then-DCF Secretary Bob Butterworth
described a $4.5 billion package of legislative budget cuts as a
"contract on kids.''
Unsafe at homeBut for a growing
number of children's advocates and academic-based social workers, the
greater threat was posed by the ever-widening gulf between reports of
children at risk, and effective, accountable methods for mitigating such
risk.It wasn't that caseworkers were ignoring troubled families.
Far from it. Investigators and caseworkers frequently encouraged
parents with poor records to accept help from the state voluntarily.
They left glossy brochures and thick information packets for domestic
violence shelters, alcohol- and drug-treatment programs and anger
management classes with thousands of parents. But then they simply
walked away. Often, the children's names returned to the hotline, as the
danger mounted."When people were non-compliant,'' Schembera said, "they fell off the face of the earth.''There were warning signs:In
2005, consultants with the University of Utah hired by the Miami-Dade
Community-Based Care Alliance wrote that children who were reported to
be in harm's way repeatedly fell through the cracks until their
situation became grave. "It appears that the investigatory system
is only working with families who are in the most severe, egregious
circumstances, and other children and families do not have entry into
the system,'' said the report, written by professor Norma Harris, who
heads the university's Social Research Institute.In 2009, the
federal Children and Family Services Review, which assessed Florida's
child welfare performance from October 2006 through January 2008,
reported that "children were unsafe, or at risk of harm, in their own
homes either because no services were provided to address safety issues
or the services provided were insufficient to ensure children's
safety.'' In some cases, the reviewers found, caseworkers failed to
implement a "safety plan'' for at-risk kids; in other cases, they closed
their investigations prematurely."I told them this from the
beginning," said Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Jeri Beth Cohen, a child
welfare judge who wanted DCF to go to court with troubled families so
judges could order parents to accept help or face the removal of their
children. She said investigators told her, privately, that they were
under intense pressure to keep their caseloads down.Schembera,
who has reviewed about 20 recent cases where a child died or was
seriously injured, said poor investigations including reports where
caseworkers failed to interview a single "collateral contact,'' such as
neighbors or pediatricians often led to poor outcomes.She called such investigations "drive-bys,'' adding: "The reality is many investigations are not worthy of the name.'' In
Nubia's case, elementary school workers told the DCF abuse hotline in
June 2010 that the girl's hunger had become so "uncontrollable'' she was
stealing food, and that she was losing her hair. It was the second such
report on the girl, who, school officials said in 2007, was hoarding
food and afraid of her adoptive mother. DCF administrators at first
suggested the 2010 report had resulted in a referral for services to
Miami's private foster-care agency, but records show no such referral
ever was made. The plea from Nubia's school, the fourth made by Blue
Lakes Elementary, did not lead child welfare workers to take any action
to monitor her family.Nubia is among hundreds of children over the past decade for whom cries for help went unheeded.Records
maintained by the state Department of Health, which houses the
Statewide Child Abuse Death Review Committee, show that the number of
children with a prior DCF history who later died rose from a low of 29
in 2002 to a peak of 79 in 2008 a 172 percent increase. Such deaths
declined in 2009 to 69, a figure that is still well above levels from
the early 2000s.In 2009, the report says, the 69 deaths represented 35 percent of the child deaths the team studied.Among
the 69 children, the number of prior reports to the state's abuse
hotline ranged from one to seven. Seven percent, or 14 children, had
been the subject of a pending child abuse or neglect report. In
2008, though Texas reported a larger number of child fatalities, with
223, the percentage of those deaths with a prior child protection
history was only 11 percent, according to the U.S. Administration for
Children & Families, whose data are slightly different from those
kept by the state. At 76 percent, South Carolina had a higher percentage
than Florida, but the numbers involved were much smaller the state
had 16 child deaths."One of the best predictors of future
behavior is past behavior,'' the team wrote in the report, which was
released in December 2010. "Often the history of the parents is
overlooked and opportunities to provide services are missed. Many of
these young parents were neglected as children and parent as they were
parented, allowing the cycle of abuse and neglect to continue.''

Many deaths came after reports
YearFlorida children who die from abuse or neglectThose with prior DCF historyPercentage with
prior DCF history
Source: Florida Department of Health's Child Abuse Death Review Committee's annual report.Note:
In two of the yearly reports, a very small number of child deaths from
prior years were added to the total for the purposes of that year's
analysis. They are not included in the yearly number above, and they do
not change the total over the six years.

Supreme Commander of the Universe With Cape AND Tights AND Fancy Headgear
Supreme Commander of the Universe With Cape AND Tights AND Fancy Headgear

Job/hobbies: Searching for Truth and Justice

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