Former Miami DCF Investigator Arrested For Falsifying Records

Child welfare investigator Shani Smith broke the law when she concocted reports about a Kendall woman who later left her baby son to die in a sweltering car, authorities said.

Child welfare investigator Shani SmithThe allegations against the former Florida Department of Children and Families employee first surfaced in 2013. On Wednesday, she surrendered to face six felony counts of official misconduct.

The investigation of Smith had been yet another black eye on the state child welfare agency. The boy’s death was one of several in the fall of 2013 that eventually led to the resignation of then-DCF Secretary David Wilkins.

At the time of her resignation, it was revealed, Smith had been working without the proper state credentials. In interviews with the press, Smith had always maintained she did nothing wrong.

Her attorney, David Kubiliun, said Wednesday that she will fight the allegations.

“I feel she’s being made a scapegoat for the department,” Kubiliun said. “They’re trying to use her as a fall guy.”

The alleged misconduct was uncovered by DCF’s Inspector General, and forwarded to prosecutors and FDLE.

“This former employee violated the public trust and did not uphold the standards we expect for those entrusted with the duty of protecting children in our community,” DCF said in a statement Tuesday.


Smith is not the first Florida child welfare employee to come under scrutiny for bogus reports in recent years.

Last year, police in Seminole County arrested Jonathan Irizarry, a case worker with the Children’s Home Society of Florida, for falsely claiming in reports that he had visited and examined a healthy child. The child had been tortured and beaten to death.

In Broward County, foster care caseworker Jabeth Moye reported that a 12-year-old named Tamiyah Audain was doing fine. Actually wasting away of starvation and neglect, the girl died in September 2013.

Last year, Moye was charged with child neglect. Moye worked for a foster care agency under the umbrella of Broward’s privately run child welfare agency, ChildNet, which has a contract with DCF.

Most infamously, Miami DCF case worker Deborah Muskelly was found to have lied in reports over a decade ago, saying she was visiting foster child Rilya Wilson. The child went missing for 15 months — presumed murdered by her caretaker, who is now in prison.

Muskelly resigned from DCF and was criminally charged with official misconduct and grand theft for falsifying her time sheets in an unrelated case. She got five years’ probation.

In Smith’s case, the chain of events began in November 2012, when a Kendall woman named Catalina Bruno was found passed out drunk behind the wheel of her car, its transmission still in drive. Her infant son, Bryan, was sprawled beside her in the front seat.

Bruno was charged with driving under the influence and child neglect.

Department of Children and Families

Afterward, DCF assigned Smith to assess Bruno’s fitness to continue caring for her children.

In case notes filed in an internal DCF computer system more than a month after Bruno’s arrest, Smith wrote that she earlier had referred the mother for a substance abuse and mental health evaluation.

She immediately noted that an evaluation center, Spectrum, found that Bruno “showed no evidence of substance misuse or mental injury,” according to a FDLE arrest warrant.

The case was closed. But the Spectrum center had no records of any requests for an evaluation for Bruno. Smith’s own e-mails showed no such evaluation. And Bruno herself told FDLE Agent Kristen Hoffacker that she never met with Smith after her November 2012 DUI arrest.

Bruno was still in jail when Smith dropped by her house and left a business card. When Bruno was released from jail, she “called Smith several times and left messages” but never got a call back.

Six months later, Bruno drank again — with deadly consequences. She drove to her Kendall home and left the toddler behind in the car, along with her purse and a can of beer. He spent hours inside the car and was later declared dead at the hospital — his body temperature measured at 109 degrees.

The boy’s death shattered his father, Amos Glen Osceola.

 Mike Carroll

Mike Carroll

Two days before the anniversary of the son’s death, Osceola killed himself by plunging his car into a canal.

Last year, Bruno pleaded guilty to manslaughter and child neglect after she spent more than one year in jail. She was ordered into rehabilitation.

Bruno’s attorney, at the time, blasted the agency for failing to get Bruno help for alcohol abuse.

“If DCF had done their job, they would have taken Bryan away, most likely given him to his grandmother, his mother would have gone to treatment, and Bryan would be alive today,” attorney Lonnie Richardson said then. “His father would also be alive today, and Catalina would be celebrating a year of sobriety.”
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Rick Scott Signs Terrible Law Expanding Florida DCF’s Power

One of the least desirable features of a representative democracy is that often, poorly thought out legislation is rammed through with little thought as a gross overreaction to immediate public outrage. Such is the case with the child welfare law signed into law by Florida Governor Rick Scott today. The gist of this story is that the Florida Department of Children and Families (“DCF”) has come under substantial public criticism for an investigative series of stories first published by the Miami Herald which revealed that 477 children have died child abuse related deaths in the last five years. The report criticized the agency for, among other things, failing to notice obvious signs of abuse in children under their care. Predictably, the response that has been ramroded through the Florida legislature is to, essentially, give lots more money and sweeping new authority to the agency directly responsible for the SNAFU that caused the public uproar in the first place:


TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott signed a sweeping bill Monday aimed at overhauling the child-welfare system after hundreds of child abuse-related deaths in the past five years.

The new law calls for a fundamental shift in the way the Department of Children and Families investigates and responds to cases. It clearly states that protecting a child from abuse is paramount and more important than keeping a family together. In the past, DCF has placed a premium on putting fewer children in foster care and, instead, offering family services while the child remains at home.

* * *

The law will fund jobs for 270 additional child protective investigators to reduce caseloads. It also establishes a response team to quickly investigate child abuse deaths when the child had previous incidents with the system and adds a small amount of funding for at-risk families with young children. Child advocates said substance abuse treatment issues are at the heart of many child deaths.


The DCF, like the federal TSA, is wildly more popular as an abstract idea than it is as an agency, in particular among anyone who has the misfortune to run afoul of their workings in any sort of personal way. In the abstract, people like the idea that there should be an agency tasked with preventing child abuse and neglect. Where the rubber meets the road, however, nightmares almost invariably happen. Part of it has to do with the nature of the job – any time a stranger is tasked with confronting a parent about the way they are raising their child, ugly personal confrontations are bound to happen. Worse, in many cases, the social workers at DCF have to encounter legitimate, heart-rending abuse and witness children kept in conditions that would rend the heart of all but the most calloused of people. The combined pressures tend wash out the sort of thoughtful, compassionate, qualified social workers and instead self-selects for social workers who are either unqualified or incapable of finding employment elsewhere, or who dispositionally enjoy personal conflict, or who are at least mostly calloused to the suffering of children. In other words, the exact people who should be kept as far away from having the power to remove children from their families as possible.

As a result, state DCFs (or DCS as it may be known in your state) too often become neverending cavalcades of horror stories where hordes of legitimate abuse cases go inadequately or incompetently investigated, all while DCF caseworkers become unwitting foot soldiers in countless divorce vendettas. As just one example of the problems infesting state child welfare agencies, it has long been shown that minority families are disproportionately likely to be reported to DCF for investigation; but moreover, even among the reported population, are disproportionately likely to have their children removed to foster care – which is not the hallmark of an agency that is thoughtfully pursuing their work.

At a glance, many aspects of this legislation, such as improving training and quality of case workers, are admirable and cannot be gainsaid. But the bolded portion above, combined with a clear and sweeping monetary incentive to root out and find more abuse, will be the root of untold measures of evil. One of our most treasured principles as a Republic is the principle that, where possible and in the absence of a compelling contrary interest, children shoudl be raised by their parents. Florida’s DCF now has a clear statutory provision to the contrary along with a huge budget and a mandate to find more abuse will, in the hands of an agency that has engendered well deserved distrust among almost everyone who has come in contact with them, lead to disaster.

Any conservatives who are lauding this decision should ask themselves this fundamental question – do you think this legislation, in the hands of the same DCF, will lead to less abuse? Or more horrors like those suffered by Justina Pelletier and her family?

Perhaps this is a question Rick Scott should have asked before signing this ill-advised legislation.


CDC’s National Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System Is Spying On Kids & Parents

The Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) is using data analysis to identify children and families most at risk, and thus inform how time and money is allocated. When the DCF started this project two years ago, the goal was to see fewer dead children — and that’s what the department says is happening while spying on children & families.

The SAS report helped DCF identify what the highest-risk children looked like on paper, creating a detailed profile. “We needed to understand a lot more of the common factors in those cases,” Carroll said, “and we needed to be able to take that information and refine what we were doing from a case practice standpoint to see if we couldn’t intervene in a more effective way to prevent some of those child deaths.”

Florida is one of 50 states conducting the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) with financial and technical assistance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) is using data analysis to identify children and families most at risk, and thus inform how time and money is allocated. When the DCF started this project two years ago, the goal was to see fewer dead children — and that’s what the department says is happening while spying on children & families.

The SAS report helped DCF identify what the highest-risk children looked like on paper, creating a detailed profile. “We needed to understand a lot more of the common factors in those cases,” Carroll said, “and we needed to be able to take that information and refine what we were doing from a case practice standpoint to see if we couldn’t intervene in a more effective way to prevent some of those child deaths.”

Florida is one of 50 states conducting the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) with financial and technical assistance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

A $100,000 contract forged with SAS last fall led to a detailed report that is now shaping how DCF achieves its mission.

This national telephone surveillance system is designed to collect data on individual risk behaviors and preventive health practices related to the leading causes of morbidity and mortality in the United States. Information from the survey is used for health planning, program evaluation, and monitoring health objectives within the Department of Health.

Albert Blackmon a paid analytics expert(employee) for SAS addressed the Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities on Thursday during a meeting held in Tampa, Florida, to discuss ways of dealing with a problem that caused the deaths of 1,640 children nationwide in 2012.

One of the focuses of SAS — the company he works for — is helping businesses and governmental entities gather, store, access, analyze and report on various data to aid in decision-making.

Representatives of the child welfare, law enforcement, public health and technology fields explored various strategies surrounding child fatalities.

Blackmon presented findings from a recent project in Florida that included poring through the files of about 1 million children to identify factors indicating a high risk of death.

In other words our government, police and corporate interests are compiling a HUGE database on kids & parents.

SAS says the resulting five-year Child Fatality Trend Analysis is helping investigators better predict the needs of families in crisis. It examined increases or decreases in the odds of children dying as a result of such factors as parental alcohol or drug abuse; physical abuse; and intervention by the governmental agency handling their cases.

This “governmental intervention” should set off alarm bells everywhere:

A private company working with law enforcement claims they can predict if your kids might be abused in the future? Will the parents be arrested on a hunch? Will the kids be put in protective services based on a prediction?

Read the full article at:


Breaking: Rick Scott Has Financial Ties to Company Fracking Our Everglades

The Everglades is sacred to native Floridians.  So much so that politicians on both sides of the aisle ran on protecting it, including Jeb, his idiot brother, Mitt Romney, and even the environment-hating Allen freaking West. No politician in Florida has ever actually run against the Everglades–until now.

We were shocked in September 2011 when Rick Scott said he supported drilling in the Everglades. Today under Rick Scott, FRACKING is now a reality in the Everglades.  I wrote about Rick Scott’s record and the illegal fracking that has already been done, along with the Department of Environmental Protection’s embarrassing response, on my blog last month. Scott’s corrupt DEP actually issued 10 oil and gas exploration permits for that region to the Dan Hughes Drilling Company, Breitburn, Burnett Oil, and others.  The DEP, which is supposed to protect the environment, (which I shouldn’t have to say because it’s in the damn name!), was run by Scott appointee Jeff Littlejohn, the son of the Chamber of Commerce president.

The bastard had no trouble demanding the state’s leading wetlands expert approve permits even though they violated state law.  He resigned earlier this month for a more lucrative job. He left saying his proudest accomplishment in defending the environment was reducing “unnecessary regulatory burdens”, because apparently every person Rick Scott appoints to an agency thinks their mission statement was written on “opposite day”.

All of this was bad enough.  But as always with our crooked governor, it gets worse.

A local TV station looked at Rick Scott’s documents for a blind trust created after he won the governor’s office.  Even though the account is managed without his involvement, Rick Scott knows the companies that are part of the investment.  Rick Scott, who has never had an issue using his office to enrich himself, his donors, or his his big donors, apparently owns six-figures worth of stock with Schlumberger.

Sclumberger is the subcontractor who has participated in the fracking process with Dan Hughes Drilling.

The governor didn’t respond to questions, BIG surprise.  But his re-election campaign spokesman did, (because that’s appropriate), by saying that the governor ensures that oil companies comply with the regulations set by…… the DEP.

Ok, maybe hiring a right-wing nutjob who made his fortune off of scamming Medicaid recipients to be our leader wasn’t the best idea we had.  But surely, you would think after  all of the scandals, cronyism, bigotry, corruption, record number of resignations, clear contempt for his citizens, or any of the other 220 reasons we were given that at least we wouldn’t elect him again.

You would be wrong.  The latest poll shows him all tied up with Charlie Crist.

JEEBUS, what does this guy have to do?  Kick a disabled kid in the teeth?  (Oh wait, he actually did that..).

I’m gonna need a bigger webpage.

8:48 AM PT: As always, don’t just get angry, get active.

BTW, even though Collier Co. is GOP territory, the citizens there are so outraged by this they are organizing against Rick Scott. If I was advising Crist’s campaign, I’d tell him to speak there to support their efforts. He could simply say the truth–that if they are shocked by this now, what the hell do you think he’ll do when he has no election to worry about?



2 State Agencies on Hotseat

The state departments that are supposed to protect children and mentally-retarded inmates are being challenged in the wake of incidents that led to preventable deaths.

State Sen. Eleanor Sobel

First, State Sen. Eleanor Sobel accused the Department of Children and Families (DCF) of a “cover-up and a whitewash” after the agency said no records were generated during an internal investigation into a previous alleged cover-up, the Miami Herald reports.

Second, there are questions about suspicious deaths of inmates at prisons in the state that were never investigated by the Department of Corrections, the Miami Herald reports in a separate article.

Regarding DCF, the genesis of the cover-up accusation was the discovery that a regional office that covers Broward, Palm Beach and three other counties failed to write and send in reports on the deaths of 30 children known to the agency as being at risk of harm. At the time, last fall and early 2014, the Herald was known to be preparing a report on such deaths.

That report, Innocents Lost, was published in March. It said 477 children supposedly under DCF watch had died in Florida over a six-year period. The series led to legislative hearings and bills to overhaul the agency.

More recently, the Herald reported that the 30 deaths from Southeast had been withheld from the total. DCF Deputy Secretary Pete Digre was assigned to investigate.

DCF Deputy Secretary Pete Digre

When he finished, Digre said Regional Administrator Dennis Miles may have violated the letter of the law, but didn’t intentionally “shield information from anyone,” the Herald reported. DCF Secretary Mike Carroll gave Miles two days of suspension without pay.

“I can assure you that no information was destroyed, and no child deaths were unaccounted for,” Carroll said.

When the Herald tried to obtain the records of the investigation, Digre and Carroll said there were not any — nothing on paper, nothing digital.

Sobel, a Democrat who chairs the Senate’s Children, Family and Elder Affairs Committee, said the agency is engaging in a huge cover-up to preserve its public image. “They are obstructing information, they are obstructing justice, and they are obstructing transparency,” she told the Herald.

Sen. Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring, agrees. “I don’t believe the department can, in good conscience, say they conducted an investigation if no paperwork was produced,” she told the Herald.

Sen. Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring

As for the Department of Corrections, the Herald recounts a number of suspicious inmate deaths over the years, most recently, a scalding death of a mentally retarded inmate in the shower, and raises questions about why DOC has failed to carry out investigations afterward. The warden of the facility in which the scalded inmate died had been in trouble previously when a suspicious death occurred at a different prison, the Herald reports.


Scott Outraged By VA Scandal, But Unfazed By DCF Cover-Up

Peter Schorsch:

is a political consultant and new media publisher based in St. Petersburg. Column courtesy of Context Florida.


Gov. Rick Scott deserves some credit for being one of the loudest critics of the Obama administration’s handling of the scandal at the Veterans Administration.

Last week, Scott announced that Florida is suing the VA to grant state health inspectors access to VA hospitals. For more than a month, the Obama administration denied state health inspectors access, setting the stage for a protracted court battle.

Scott — probably correctly — points out that state health inspectors could have discovered the fraud and mistreatment of veterans before the scandal became so widespread.

“Transparency and accountability are critical to supporting our veterans, and this suit will fight the federal VA’s continued practice of stonewalling our inspectors,” said Scott in a press statement last week.

As part of his criticism of the Obama administration, Scott was one of the first elected officials to call for the resignation of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki after the federal agency’s Office of Inspector General released an initial report finding that delayed medical care, as well as efforts to hide records, was “systemic” throughout the veterans’ health system.

“To date, Sec. Shinseki has refused to step down, our inspectors continue to be turned away, and none of the information we’ve asked for has been provided,” Scott said last week.

What finally did in Shinseki was the accusation that the VA altered records to indicate that wait times were shorter than they actually were in order to cover-up malfeasance that led to veterans’ deaths.

If that accusation proves true, Scott was correct to call for Shinseki to step down.

One question remains:

Will Scott be as vocal about the scandal at his Department of Children and Families (DCF) as he has been the scandal at the VA?

According to Carol Marbin Miller via a blog post from Mary Ellen Klas, the Miami Herald was finishing a tally of Florida child abuse and neglect deaths last November among families that had previously come to the attention of DCF. The count was undertaken as part of a project called Innocents Lost. To track the number of dead children, which soared to new heights in recent years, reporters relied on public records, including incident reports.

Documents obtained after Innocents Lost was published show that starting at least as early as last November, as the Herald was grilling DCF on its problems in preventing the deaths of children under its watch, one branch of the agency deliberately kept as many as 30 deaths off the books — ensuring they would not be included in the published tally.

It remains unclear if the missing records were a deliberate attempt to obscure the deaths or suppress numbers in a series of articles emphasizing DCF mistakes.

“I am not certain yet,” new DCF secretary Mike Carroll tells the Herald. “I hope that’s not the case. I have made it clear to folks that we are not in the business of hiding information.”

In an effort to clarify, Carroll said Southeast Region administrators ceased filing the required reports for a minimum of five months while developing new reporting tools. These so-called “phantom deaths” began sometime after September 2013.


As part of its reporting, the Herald learned that Leslie Chytka, a DCF child abuse and quality assurance specialist, wrote in an agency email April 2 outlining 30 child deaths without corresponding incident reports — a violation of DCF rules requiring reports to be completed “within one working day” of a child’s death.

She then instructed staff in the Southeast Region to file reports for each of the 30 deaths, which was done quickly. Subsequent accounts detail “many prior” incidents where the agency was involved with the families of the dead children.

Regardless of the explanation from DCF, it is clear that the agency altered records in an attempt to cover up a scandal, you know, like what allegedly happened at the VA.

Scott was out front in his criticism of the VA, yet he is silent today about DCF.

How is it that Rick Scott can call for Shinseki’s resignation because the VA altered damning treatment records, but he’s not demanding the resignation of his own DCF secretary when that agency altered records to hide child deaths?




Child Deaths Kept Off The Books At DCF


cmarbin@MiamiHerald.comJune 1, 2014


At 2 a.m. on Dec. 13, 2013, a Riviera Beach mom woke up to find her newborn baby’s lips were purple. Blood and milk oozed from the girl’s nose. She had stopped breathing.

The baby, authorities say, likely was accidentally smothered to death by her mother, who placed the girl in bed with her, and three other children — a practice known as “co-sleeping” that can be lethal to infants.

Child welfare investigators had been involved with the family four times before the infant’s death.

An investigator prepared an incident report on the baby’s death later that day and emailed it to a supervisor.

The paper trail ended there.

Kimberly Welles, an administrator at the Department of Children & Families’ Southeast Region, deleted the incident report, email records show. And she instructed the supervisor who wrote it, Lindsey McCrudden, to deep-six it, as well.

“Please do not file this in the system. No incident reports right now on death cases,” Welles wrote in an email that day. “Please withdraw this and thanks. Will advise why later.”

Last November, the Miami Herald was finishing a tally of Florida child abuse and neglect deaths among families that had previously come to the attention of DCF. The count was undertaken as part of a project called Innocents Lost. To track the number of dead children, which soared to new heights in recent years, reporters relied on public records, including incident reports.

Documents obtained after Innocents Lost was published show that, starting at least as early as last November as the Herald was grilling DCF on its problems preventing deaths of children under its watch, one branch of the agency deliberately kept as many as 30 deaths off the books — ensuring they would not be included in the published tally.

The incidents were in DCF’s Southeast Region, encompassing Palm Beach, Martin, St. Lucie, Okeechobee and Broward — the county cited by the Herald as having the most reported deaths by abuse or neglect. wwwDCF’s new secretary, Mike Carroll, said he has dispatched his top deputy, Pete Digre, to look into the missing records.

Secretary, Mike Carroll

Carroll’s initial assessment of the matter: “Was it ill-advised? Absolutely. Was it a mistake? Absolutely.”

But as to whether the missing records amounted to a deliberate attempt to conceal deaths or suppress numbers in a series of articles highlighting DCF blunders, Carroll said: “I am not certain yet. I hope that’s not the case. I have made it clear to folks that we are not in the business of hiding information.”

Southeast Region administrators say they ceased filing the required reports for at least five months because they were in the process of developing a new reporting tool, Carroll said.

He added: “There is no evidence that makes me think there was a conspiracy to withhold information … I don’t have anything that shows me this was done with ill intent.”

Carroll reaffirmed previous pledges to transform his agency into one of the most open and forthcoming in the United States, beginning with the online posting of “every single death report.”

Streamlining and speeding up the availability of agency information, Carroll said, will not only allow DCF to quiet its critics — it may help the agency improve its performance.

“We have to get better at what we do,” Carroll said. “If DCF had contact with a child, we should have zero child deaths with those families.”

Rash of deaths

Reporters on March 31 requested all child death incident reports statewide since Nov. 1, roughly when the Herald’s gathering of death reports had concluded. As DCF prepared to fulfill the records request, it discovered a strange new development: From at least November onward, the Southeast Region apparently had stopped filing incident reports, though more than two dozen child deaths had occurred in the region, according to the state’s child abuse and neglect hotline.

On April 2, a DCF child abuse and quality assurance specialist, Leslie Chytka, wrote in an email that she had found 30 child deaths with no corresponding incident reports — a violation of agency rules that say such reports must be completed “within one working day” of a child’s death. She instructed staff in the region to file reports for all of the 30 deaths.

That led to another email, from another staffer, with the title: “the upcoming rash of incident report deaths.” In it, DCF quality assurance manager Frank Perry wrote: “Disregard the next thirty or so incident reports that will be posted in the next day or so. They are child deaths we are aware of but are not in the … system. I have been asked to create these incidents so they are recorded.”

And create them he did — very quickly. The reports, filed by Perry on April 3 and April 4, are unlike any of the of the 145 or so the Herald received from the rest of the state at that time: They were largely devoid of information. Many of the Perry reports consisted of four sentences or fewer and offered no information, or scant information, regarding each family’s history with DCF. Such information is customarily provided in an incident report.

Only one child death incident report from the region included unredacted details of the family’s history with DCF. That one blamed the death on a Miami judge who ignored an agency recommendation about where the baby should live..

Read more here:

DCF Must Be Held To Promises

The Florida Department of Children and Families’ new secretary promises to take a sharp turn away from the secrecy that has put too many children in danger — and may have cost some their lives.


That’s laudable. But for the sake of abused, neglected and abandoned children across the state, Gov. Rick Scott and legislators should ensure that Secretary Mike Carroll follows through on his promises.

Indeed, DCF’s first reaction to the Miami Herald’s recent series detailing the deaths of 477 children was predictable — and wholly unacceptable.

The Herald’s series “Innocents Lost” detailed the deaths of children – including eight in Bay County – left in homes known to be troubled, often with inadequate follow-up or even willful blindness to the presence of dangerous, violent adults. Following its publication, DCF officials choked off access to full reports of child deaths. They redacted key details, including accounts of the agency’s prior contact with families where abuse or neglect was suspected. Some of the reports requested by the Herald in recent months were returned with all but one or two sentences blacked out.

During the recent legislative session, the Herald reported, DCF staff also quietly pushed for legislative changes that would have injected vagueness into statutory language requiring prompt reporting of child deaths, killed a key oversight committee and done away with protocols meant to focus immediate attention on suspicious deaths.


Those efforts to block transparency ultimately failed. Inspired by the Herald’s reporting, the Legislature sent a comprehensive reform bill to Scott. He should sign it. But even without the new law, DCF should acknowledge that more transparency is essential.

Indeed, it’s hard to see why the agency fought for obscurity. Florida’s failure to protect vulnerable children stems largely from efforts to conduct child protection on the cheap, stinting on services — such as child care, substance-abuse treatment and mental health services — that can help heal broken families before tragedy strikes. And for every dead child, there are countless others who grow up with serious, societal costly problems that might have been prevented with the right kind of family support.

Unflinching honesty about child deaths is paramount to fixing the problems in the system. It fosters trust that DCF will use every resource available wisely and effectively to help protect children.

On Monday, his first day on the job as DCF’s new secretary, Carroll vowed that the agency would rededicate itself to that kind of transparency. He’s creating a high-level position in his department that will oversee all child deaths. “Our goal is to increase awareness so that communities across the state can identify where additional resources and efforts are needed to assist struggling families,” he wrote in a memo announcing the changes.

It’s a commendable commitment, but Floridians have heard these sorts of promises before. This time, things must be different — and if Carroll doesn’t follow through, Scott and state lawmakers should be prepared to force more openness.

These statistics and detailed reports are grim. But they are endangered children’s only chance to be heard — before even more of their voices are silenced forever.


Last Chance To Get It Right

With a little luck — and a lot of legislative backbone — the children in care of the Department of Children & Families will be better shielded from harm by the time state lawmakers turn out the lights on their two-month session in Tallahassee on Friday.

And if that’s the case, it’s because most lawmakers were likely shamed, embarrassed or dragged into doing something because of the Miami Herald’s eye-opening, stomach-churning series Innocents Lost. That was the intent.

But Innocents Lost has shaken loose an unintended consequence, too: DCF is, basically, hiding the true number of children who have died at the hands of abusive or neglectful caretakers. It’s an insidious — and, incredibly, official — policy that should end immediately. Lawmakers must make sure that it does on this final day of the session by inserting a mandate for transparency, accuracy and urgency in reporting child deaths.

Again, DCF’s leaders are talking the talk about keeping children safe. But they are furiously backpedaling from that stance — and last week were working overtime to weaken the more-stringent rules of operation that Senate lawmakers rightly imposed.

DCF, showing that it has learned little from the comprehensively reported deaths of 477 children — it’s more now — sought to strip the child-safety language from the Senate bill aiming to force the agency to more carefully monitor children it leaves in at-risk homes. It also sought to get rid of a layer of oversight of the department relating to child deaths, eliminate language that would have tightened child-safety protections and deep-six a requirement that members of DCF’s Rapid Response Teams travel to the site of a child’s death to conduct a case review.

During a year in which lawmakers are drooling over the state’s $1.2-billion surplus, DCF — and Gov. Rick Scott — insist that too many of these provisions to keep children alive are just too expensive. The irony is rich, isn’t it?

Commend state Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, the bill’s sponsor, heavy-lifter Sen. Denise Grimsley and their colleagues for swatting down DCF’s foolish attempt and unanimously approving the stronger bill. Miami-Dade Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, however, warrants a swat himself for filing that 140-page amendment to water down the bill.

DCF’s clampdown on transparency and disclosure is simply, and sadly, more of the same. In advance of the stories of the 477 children who died on DCF’s watch being published, the agency curtailed the scope and the detail of child deaths by delaying the release of official incident reports and making sure that they were as terse as possible.

As reported by Carol Marbin Miller and Audra D.S. Burch, last fall, an administrator for South Florida and the Treasure Coast stopped filing the required “critical incident reports” to DCF headquarters. After the stories were published, he belatedly submitted the files — some months old — of more than 20 children who died.

Administrators now delete what they deem confidential information from public records — including most details of a child’s death. They harm themselves by failing to include critical details. Overly exuberant redactions make it impossible for the public to gauge DCF’s performance.

DCF’s newly appointed leader, Mike Carroll, clearly has his work cut out for him. So does the Legislature. House lawmakers failed to vote on the Senate bill Thursday. They must not squander their last opportunity to get it right and save children’s lives.

Mike Carroll

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Foster Care: Safety net often fails to protect children from dangers of foster care

The primary goal of the Department of Children and Families (DCF), the safety net that protects young children from abuse, neglect, and abandonment, is straightforward: “Safely stabilizing and preserving families; safely reunifying families; and safely creating new families.”  Most would agree that this is a worthwhile objective, but I, and many others who are involved with the Department of Children and Families, do not always believe that this goal is being met or supported. Throughout the past decade, there have been many instances when DCF has failed to check in on homes that had severe warning signs of abuse, resulting in unsafe living conditions, death, and sexual abuse brought upon by foster parents, adoptive parents, and biological parents or guardians.

In 2012, 432 Florida children died of abuse and neglect. In response to the deaths, a member of the State Child Abuse Death Review Committee stated, “It pains me that if the right people had been helping those families, a lot of the deaths could have been prevented.” Most recently, DCF has been under fire after a young Fitchburg boy went missing after a social worker and supervisor failed to follow visitation procedures while the family was being monitored by DCF.  Police now think the mother of 5-year-old Jeremiah Oliver, along with her boyfriend, kidnapped and murdered her son, whose body was recently discovered. This is only one of many disturbing instances in which the once thriving department has failed.

These types of occurrences make you shake your head and wonder how a government-run agency can place children back in their biological homes when there are extreme signs of abuse.  The DCF should be acting in the best interest of the child, which is not always family reunification. A drastic change in policies, procedures and red tape needs to occur in order to save the lives of the 397,000 children in United States foster care today.


Definitive decisions need to be made by the DCF and by judges who are responsible for interpreting these important laws.  If there is even a hint of suspicion, action should be taken to remove the child from the home immediately. That being said, if a child is removed from his or her home, he or she should not be lingering in the system for years. Most often, children in the foster care system relocate to over eight different foster homes until they age out of the system at 18, creating uneasiness, confusion, anger, and depression. Children should be placed in a permanent and healthy foster home in order for them to continue to thrive.  Speaking from first hand experience, you will not find a happy, blonde, blue-eyed child in a foster home.  I have witnessed children with attachment disorders, post-traumatic stress disorders, drug addictions, and physical abuse.  These children need not only a roof above their heads, but an advocate and protector to follow through with the services that they so require and deserve.

Current Massachusetts State Auditor Suzanne Bump says that investigators found 25 cases in which the addresses of many Massachusetts foster homes, adoptive homes, and others involved with the Department of Children and Families matched those of Level 2 and Level 3 sex offenders.  This is an extremely high-risk placement that is dangerous for all children involved.  Though DCF claims there were no reports of any abuse, this remains completely unacceptable.  The pure carelessness and negligence shown by those in DCF when addressing the living conditions and situations for thousands of these children is a major issue.  Scheduled monthly home checks should be in place for families and homes that the DCF believes to be dangerous for children.

For those of us who are fortunate enough to be living in a safe, healthy environment that allows us to thrive in all that we do, we cannot simply shrug our shoulders over the fate of those who are not as lucky.