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.