ORLANDO, Fla. —Officials from Orange County Public Schools, the Department of Children and Families and the Orange County Sheriff’s Office knew of Jennifer Fichter’s alleged misconduct, but state education officials were not notified, allowing Fichter to teach in Polk County.
Fichter was arrested last week after she admitted to a sexual relationship with a child in Polk County. Fichter allegedly admitted that she became pregnant with the child’s baby, but had an abortion, officials said. She was arrested at her home and charged with six counts of unlawful sexual activity with a minor. Fichter is an English teacher at Central Florida Aerospace Academy.
Prior to her alleged romance with the Polk County student, Fichter taught language arts at Robinswood Middle School in Orange County from August 2007 until Dec. 19, 2008. Orange County Public School officials started investigating Fichter after a teacher filed a complaint accusing her of discussing her feelings for an eighth-grade male student and texting the student.
According to a Sheriff’s Office report, deputies interviewed the eighth-grade student who said Fichter had texted the student about her feelings about 40-50 times. School officials notified DCF officials, according to the Sheriff’s Office report.
Fitcher reportedly told that teacher “she felt as though the student was her boyfriend and that he made her melt.”
Video: Polk teacher who had sex with student accused of misconduct in Orange County
According to the report, both the teacher who filed the complaint and the eighth-grade boy told school investigators Fichter “texted a student a message that said that she ‘was going to smash’ the student,” and that “Fichter had asked a student if he wanted to be her baby.”
Public Schools Spokeswoman Kathy Marsh said Monday that the county “did not report the case regarding Fichter to the state Department of Education.”
Since the county did not inform state officials, Fichter was able to get a teaching job in Polk County, Florida Department of Education officials said last week.
Following the allegations made against Fichter, public school officials in Orange County told all employees that “No employee of the Orange County Public Schools should engage in any texting or other social media with any OCPS student,” unless the student is the employee’s child or the information is related to a class, athletic or extracurricular activity, Marsh said.
Polk County school officials said last week that they expect Fichter to be fired this week.
- See more at: http://baltimorepostexaminer.com/florida-department-children-families-consider-warned/2014/04/11#sthash.nGjdVFPe.dpuf
By Carl Hiaasen
With much chest-thumping, Gov. Rick Scott last week signed a law clipping auto-tag fees by about $25 per vehicle in Florida. He used the opportunity to blast former Gov. Charlie Crist for raising those fees five years ago.
What Scott cynically failed to mention during the bill-signing charade was that all the top Republicans standing at his side had also supported the auto-tag hikes. It was the depth of the recession, and the state desperately needed revenue.
Scott himself is desperate to appear gubernatorial because Crist, running as a Democrat, will likely be his opponent in the November election. The auto-tag fee cut was the centerpiece of a tax-relief agenda being pushed by the governor, who trails Crist in the early polls.
Two of the GOP lawmakers who were crowing about this grand windfall for motor-vehicle owners have an infinitely more important job in the days ahead. House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz have a chance to do something truly crucial and good.
They can shape a law that saves actual lives — the lives of endangered children.
Bills that would strengthen Florida’s child welfare laws are winding through both houses of the Legislature following publication of the Herald’s shocking investigative series, Innocents Lost.
The newspaper documented the deaths of at least 477 children whose parents or caregivers had a history with the state’s Department of Children & Families. During the six-year period studied by reporters, DCF consistently under-reported the number of victims in its files who died because of violence or negligence by parents and caregivers.
In 2008, for example, the state said the death toll was 79. Using DCF’s own records, Herald reporters found 103 fatal cases that year.
Then, in 2009, the state reported that 69 children whose families had prior contact with DCF had died. Reporters counted 107.
The uncounted die just as wretchedly — and as unnecessarily — as the counted.
One of the most awful, notorious cases involved Nubia Barahona, a 10-year-old Miami girl who’d been tortured and starved by her adoptive parents. Soaked in poisonous chemicals, her decomposing body was found inside a black garbage bag on a pest-control truck.
Three years after the murder, the DCF still hasn’t sent her case to the Florida Child Abuse Death Review Committee. Incredibly, Nubia’s death remains officially uncounted.
The child-welfare system has been overwhelmed and broken for a long time, but that hasn’t stopped lawmakers from hacking millions in DCF funding. But this year Florida has accumulated an extra $1.3 billion in revenues, so there’s no excuse not to take action to stop the killings.
Scott has proposed $40 million to hire more DCF investigators and improve their training. That’s a start, but drug-treatment and counseling programs are also needed for those who’ve been allowed to keep custody of their children while under supervision.
The sad truth is that there aren’t enough good foster homes to let the state move all the kids now living with reckless parents in high-risk situations. In recent years the DCF has bent over backwards to hold dysfunctional families intact, too often with lethal consequences.
In 83 cases found by the Herald, a little boy or girl died after one or more parents had signed a so-called “safety plan” pledging to take better care of the child. The Senate version of the reform bill aims to make these safety plans more than just a piece of paper.
The measure would also require prompt and complete reporting of certain child deaths, and offer tuition-aid incentives for social workers who want to become child-abuse investigators.
Still, the Senate bill provides only $31 million in extra funding for child protection. The House version calls for $44.5 million.
“It’s tragic where Florida finds itself,” said House Speaker Weatherford last week.
He and Sen. President Gaetz have the clout — and a moral obligation — to make other lawmakers understand the profound urgency of DCF reform. Children who are known to be in danger are dying anyway, and the state can’t even properly count how many.
With $1.3 billion in unanticipated revenue lying around, the governor and Legislature can afford to invest more than a drop in the bucket to help Florida’s most helpless children.
Lowering auto-tag fees by 25 bucks might be cause for giddy back-slapping in Tallahassee, but saving even one child from a tortuous death would be a more noble accomplishment.
And one you can’t put a price on.
Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2014/04/05/4039855/the-profound-urgency-of-dcf-reform.html#storylink=cpy
Mayor Jim Blucher, North Port City Commission Seat # 4
The message of North Port Chief of Police Kevin Vespia states, “Our citizens expect and deserve that their police officers will act with honor and integrity at all times.” Well it seems they are not, not by any stretch of the imagination. The City of North Port, Florida and the North Port Police Department (NPPD) have a major and growing scandal on their collective hands.
WWSB ABC Channel 7 reports, “Since we first reported the ongoing scandal involving sexual assault at a party attended by on- and off-duty North Port police officers, multiple people have come forward with stories about previous wild parties involving members of the department. One of these people is a former law enforcement officer here on the Suncoast, and while he wasn’t at the party the night of the alleged assault, he says he has been to several other similar parties hosted and attended by North Port cops where things got out of hand.”
Bill Warner, a Sarasota private investigator, posted a column on his blog titled “Told You So Sarasota: NPPD Swinger Parties With Drugs Headed Up By 3 Way Sex Cop Melanie Turner.” North Port resident Sherry Smart, after reading Warner’s article, sent an email to the City Commissioners. Smart states, “3 Way Sex Cop…. what a great tag line for North Port. Perhaps we would get more visitors to our ‘esteemed’ city with that for our city motto instead of ‘the city where you can achieve anything’… but then again perhaps those are interchangeable like our police officers at sex parties?”
Smart notes, “The article does not elude [sic] to a ONE time event. Good officers (those who don’t do 3 ways with their peers) would be fearful to expose this behavior. They would be fearful of repercussions from those who do not wish to be exposed… or rather, found out. (Exposure doesn’t seem to bother them). Because we now have an officer who has committed suicide rather than go to court and eventually jail, this leads one to question…. what else was there that he didn’t want to come to light and with this dire action, he thought would die with him? So what’s the percentage of exposure — 10%? with another 90% hidden within the department?”
North Port Chief of Police Kevin Vespia
North Port Vice-Mayor Rhonda Y. DiFranco
It has been reported by the Sarasota Herald-Tribune that North Port Vice-Mayor Rhonda Y. DiFranco’s female domestic partner is Jennifer S. Cohen. DiFranco, Cohen and former Sarasota City Commissioner Ken Sheilan (who is a homosexual) were the force and faces behind the effort to approve a domestic partner registry in North Port. Vice Mayor DiFranco is the City Commission’s liaison to the North Port Police Department. DiFranco is also a retired Sarasota County Deputy Sheriff.
Smart concludes with, “Houston we have a problem. (Stating the obvious here) So now what are you going to do about it? I do have some thoughts on how to go about routing [sic] out the rotten roots. Am waiting expectantly to hear your thoughts.”
If Smart receives a reply we will post an update to this column. The following questions have been sent to all of the City Commissioners:
1. Who hired Officer Melanie Turner and when?
2. Did the department do a background check on Officer Turner?
3. Did the department know Officer Turner was a lesbian?
4. If so, was this not a red flag to the department?
Jennifer S. Cohen.
“Innocents Lost,” a stunning Miami Herald series, recently described how 477 children died from abuse or neglect even though the Florida Department of Children and Families had already been warned they were in danger.
The response by Gov. Rick Scott and DCF interim Secretary Esther Jacobo has been disappointing, according to The Palm Beach Post. Neither plans to change DCF’s priority, which has been keeping families intact rather than keeping children safe, the Post says.
In an op-ed in the Florida Times-Union and other state newspapers, Jacobo says federal and state laws require that children be kept with their families whenever it can be safely done. She says the agency welcomes the increased attention and scrutiny, because it will prod legislators to provide more money for the agency and for other services it relies on, such as mental-health treatment and drug rehabilitation.
“We stand firmly in the belief that the system is not broken. It is challenged,” Jacobo writes. What DCF needs, in addition to money,is more citizen volunteers as foster parents and guardians ad litem, she said.
But the Post supports an effort by State Sen. Eleanor to rewrite state law to make the welfare of the child the first priority.
BOSTON — Describing a foster care system rife with problems that could lead “risks to become realities,” Auditor Suzanne Bump released a critical review of the state’s foster care agency on Wednesday, stating that “significant management deficiencies” led to undocumented background checks on foster parents and poor oversight of medical treatment for children in state custody.
The audit produced by Bump’s office covered a period from July 2010 through September 2012, before the disappearance of a 5-year-old Fitchburg boy, who is presumed dead, that touched off a series of inquiries exposing deep problems at the Department of Children and Families with caseloads and oversight of children in its care.
“DCF does indeed work miracles on a daily basis. It is, however, an agency whose frontline workers and managers need better guidance and better tools in order to effectively protect children entrusted to their care,” Bump said at a press conference in her office where she described the report and said auditors began their work more than a year ago.
The report was released as lawmakers consider spending increases to address social worker caseloads and needs and while they await a full report on the agency by the Child Welfare League of America.
The audit found that DCF had not updated its department-wide risk assessment since 2008 which may be preventing the agency from identifying significant risks to foster children. Bump also said DCF workers did not have access to critical information in order to ensure that children receive the required seven-day medical screenings and 30-day medical examinations once they have been placed in state custody, and managers aware of the problems failed to react to the situation.
Additionally, DCF maintained incomplete records of background checks performed on adults living in foster homes and had not been conducting checks for the proximity of Level 2 and Level 3 registered sex offenders before placing children in foster homes.
“The findings in our audit today constitute more than record keeping problems at the agency. It’s inability to ensure that medical screenings of children and background checks of foster placements are taking place is symptomatic of an agency whose employees are without ready access to the information, technology and guidance they need in order to protect the children and the families that they serves,” Bump said. “DCF needs help to do its job.”
Bump said she has initiated a follow-up audit to examine the process for granting background check waivers to foster homes with adults who may have a criminal record because DCF was unable to provide auditors with a complete list of placements in homes where waivers had been issued.
Bump reported that some of her recommendations for improvements at the agency are already being implemented, and the department responded to the release of the her audit by detailing the new practices in place to ensure children in foster care receive timely medical screening and background checks on employees and foster homes.
The agency said that a separate Medicaid review showed that 90 percent of children received medical care within 30 days before or after placement in foster care, and that the department has started sharing information between Medicaid and improving documentation of medical visits.
DCF also said it is now conducting background checks and sex-offender registry checks on all applicants for foster care and adoption, and verified that no children in foster care are living with sex offenders, though the auditor’s report found that some children are living in the same building as Level 3 offenders.
“We are working day-in and day-out to enhance our ability to protect children and strengthen families, “DCF Commissioner Olga Roche said in a statement. “Working with our partners to improve services and providing field staff with the resources they need is central to achieving our agency’s mission.”
Gov. Deval Patrick
Gov. Deval Patrick had a reserved response to the auditor’s findings, many of which have also been identified by the Child Welfare League of America who Patrick hired to review the agency.
“I don’t think there really is really anything new there. It’s mostly technical and about record-keeping, for example the issues of children getting their initial medical screenings, or those records being kept at DCF or over at MassHealth,” Patrick told reporters, when asked about the report. “The larger issues at DCF remain. The auditor’s report didn’t really get into that — and those are around staffing and technology and we’re working on that.”Patrick also said some news accounts of a Cape Cod runaway and a Mattapan murder victim, both of whom were involved to an extent with DCF, were examples of the agency working well yet unable to prevent difficult situations.“I’m sorry to say that is part of what happens in child welfare. It’s not that it’s acceptable, but like I’ve said many, many times before, the folks at DCF and in child welfare agencies all over the country work with some of the most troubling children and some of the most troubling situations, and not every outcome is a happy one,” Patrick said.
Though Bump sidestepped questions about Roche’s ability to lead the agency and said her audit was about correcting systematic issues within the entire agency, Republican gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker said the audit showed why “putting new leadership in place is the first step in fixing this broken agency.”
Patrick has stood behind Roche’s ability to continue to lead and improve DCF.
Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr said Bump’s audit “reconfirms the risks posed to vulnerable children” because of problems with the management of the Department of Children and Families.
“Now, more than ever, it is clear that reforming this agency needs to be a priority for the Legislature and the Administration, and the job needs to be done in a timely and effective way,” Tarr said.
The union representing social workers, who recently began circulating a letter questioning the efficacy of communications and directives from senior managers in the agency, said it wished Bump had consulted with them in the course of her audit. Bump said she is restricted by auditing practices about who she can share information with, but assured reporters that problems uncovered were brought immediately to management for action.
“Had the State Auditor formally engaged front-line workers in the audit process, this report would have identified today’s real barriers to successful child protection — from the worsening caseload crisis to disjointed implementation of key directives and policies. We hope that future audits will incorporate this experience and expertise to better reflect the realities of on-the-ground child protection work,” SEIU Local 509 spokesman Jason Stephany said.
BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. —
A Brevard County girl’s future is uncertain after the Department of Children and Families worker who was supposed to be protecting her took her home instead.
There’s a battle brewing between the employee and the little girl’s family over who gets to keep her.
DCF child protection investigator, Nicole Kemp, is off the job while the young girl is caught up in a custody battle.
Channel 9 learned Wednesday Kemp has hired a lawyer who told her not to talk with anyone about the case.
Court records show Kemp admitted she and her husband took the unidentified child home with them three years ago when she was born.
A Brevard County Sheriff’s Office report shows Kemp gave money to the little girl’s mother, Susan Jordan, who has a drug problem, according to DCF.
DCF said it found out last year that Kemp had the child, so they forced her to resign or be fired and placed the child with her great aunt.
“She took the little girl. How she took her was wrong, but she got her and they have an attachment,” said the girl’s aunt, Anita Gibson.
The aunt told Channel 9 she sympathizes with Kemp emotionally but wants the little girl to grow up with her brothers to stay together as a family.
“I actually feel for her right now. It wasn’t me who put you in this situation, you put yourself in this situation,” said Gibson.
Gibson wants to keep her niece, where she’ll be raised with her brothers.
“This is an absolutely heartbreaking scenario. It’s a complicated scenario. It comes down to an innocent child who’s now a victim,” Carrie Proudfit, with DCF, said.
Kemp is fighting to get the girl back and swore in court documents that she’s been raising the little girl since the day she was born.
Kemp is claiming in court paperwork that she’s actually related to the child through her grandfather, but the girl’s family is challenging that claim.
DCF said the state inspector general is investigating whether Kemp possibly falsified documents to keep the situation hidden from DCF.