State Settles With Family Involving Bell Tragedy

GAINESVILLE, Fla. —  The Florida Department of Children and Families has reached a settlement agreement with the families involved in the Bell Tragedy.

Department of Children and Families

 DCF and two other private companies – who provide child welfare services – will dish out a total of $750,000 to the families involved in the 2014 shooting.

 “For us, we’re glad the settlement could be settlement was reached so we could all have closure and move forward,” Partnership for Strong Families spokesperson Jenn Petion explains.

As part of the settlement, the families have agreed to not sue the state or its contractors for wrongful death among other complaints.

 DCF will pay $450,000, Partnership for Strong Families will pay $250,000 and Deverux $50,000.

 Records show the Spirit home was investigated more than a dozen times for child abuse and neglect concerns. In 2003, Don Spirit served three years in person after shooting and killing his 8-year-old son – which was ruled an accident.
dcf31“There will still be horrible people who do horrible things to children,” Petioin explains, “but that doesn’t mean we will ever stop reviewing our processes and challenging ourselves to do even more to protect our community’s most vulnerable kids.”

The incident prompted DCF to retrain the staff at their Chiefland office and 1,600 investigators statewide.

TV20 reached out to DCF for comment, they referred us to a statement that was made last year which explained how officials would review improvements to better protect children.


Kansas Parents Slam DCF For Allegedly Mishandling Cases

WICHITA, Kan. — Kansas parents whose children have been taken from them are slamming the state.

They’re accusing the Department for Children and Families of abusing its power and putting their kids in dangerous homes.

dcf kanAfter months of trying to find someone who would listen to their cries for help and calls for change, parents, grandparents and concerned community members gathered for a special meeting on the Wichita State campus Thursday night.

During a listening session, they each shared their DCF experiences with representatives from the Department of Justice and Health and Human Services.

“It has been an emotional travesty what has happened to my family,” said Jarus and Lara Pore.

The state took away the Pores’ three kids in May, when a neighbor found their two-year-old wandering alone outside. They say trying to regain custody has been a nightmare.

“The entire time, we’ve been lied to. There’s no communication or advocate for the parents to know or expect what’s coming up,” Lara said.

In 2010, Therasa Owen lost her two daughters, who suffer from a form of Muscular Dystrophy, because the state said the family’s religious beliefs were hurting the girls’ education and health.

“[One of my daughter’s] life is at risk the longer she stays out of the home because she’s developed seizures in a new part of the brain,” Owen said.


Latisa Micheaux says social workers deemed her unfit to care for her grandchildren because of a misdemeanor on her record from 1981. She says she hasn’t been told where they are and worries they’re being abused.

“All I know, is the last time I seen my grandson, he had bruises all around his lower back from the foster parents,” Micheaux said.

Not only do these families want to be whole again, they say they want DCF officials to be held accountable for the mishandling of their cases.

“DCF, all of the foster care agencies, and the courts need to be investigated thoroughly because families are being torn apart,” Owen said.

“They’re suffering now, more than they ever have in their whole life because of the damage,” Micheaux said.

The state has refused to comment on individual cases. Now, the DOJ will investigate each parents’ complaint, and then let the group know whether they have a case against the state. If the DOJ believes they do, the group plans on filing a class action lawsuit–323176171.html


Violent Sexual Predators Held Indefinitely – For A Profit

Posted: Jun 09, 2015 8:46 PM EST Updated: Jun 09, 2015 8:46 PM EST
Andrea Praegitzer, NBC-2
6/9/15 — ARCADIA, FLa. — There’s only one place in the entire country where violent sexual predators are committed indefinitely that is run by a for-profit company.

ArcadiaIt’s in Arcadia, Florida – on the outskirts of town, past historic buildings and rows of antique stores that tourists often visit.

Despite receiving a state award for cost effectiveness, some national civil liberties groups say the Florida Civil Commitment Center is on their radar because it’s being run under a $272 million contract by a for-profit company – one with a criticized performance record and a purported conflict of incentives.

Records from the state show the facility has been understaffed, with undertrained staff, running the program where most detainees are released before completing the full treatment regimen.

Courts control the releases, state authorities said, adding the company running the facility – Correct Care Recovery Solutions – is under a corrective action plan for staffing issues and is doing a good job overall with a difficult population.


The men held at the Florida Civil Commitment Center have been described as the “worst of the worst.” Up to 720 of them can be held at the facility.

[Florida Civil Commitment Center detainee list here]

We asked for a tour but were told by the Department of Children and Families – which oversees the program and contract with Geo Group and now Correct Care – that they no longer do tours due to “security issues and other concerns.”

Correct Care, which runs the facility, also declined our request to go inside to tour of the facility and would not comment on our questions for this story. The company would only say: “it is our policy not to comment on treatment or patient related matters.”

It is not a prison, but it looks similar to one from the outside and from the sky. The men inside have all been considered so dangerous they weren’t allowed back into society after their prison sentences ended.

So they were committed by the state – involuntarily and indefinitely – at the Florida Civil Commitment Center.

These are all men who were convicted of a sexually violent offense and suffer from a mental abnormality or personality disorder. They have been referred for the program and are considered likely to commit another violent sex crime. They’re committed through court and a jury.

The Arcadia program is not just the only one of its kind run by a for-profit company in the entire nation – it’s also apparently the largest program of its kind.

With 20 states committing people deemed violent sexual offenders – Florida has the most committed, according to a study from the state of California, which takes second place.


“Florida is the only state whose entire SVP program is being run by a private company,” Shan Jumper, president of the Sex Offender Civil Commitment Programs Network, said in an email. “A few other states contract out pieces of their operations (psychological treatment or testing, community release supervision) to private companies.”


Contract oversight reports from DCF point to issues with staffing levels that are too low, and staff that are undertrained.

Here are just some of the deficiencies detailed in recent contract oversight reports from 2013-2014 provided by DCF:

– 8 of 27 employee records reviewed from the full 298 employees at the facility did not have documentation that they’d completed all the courses required for annual in-service training.

That was an improvement, though, from the 2012-2013 report showing 26 of 27 employee records reviewed did not have documentation of all courses required for annual in-service training.

– The basic orientation training required for the employees prior to providing direct services did not include abuse reporting.

– Job vacancies included:

*An executive office employee from January through May

*2 business support employees from January through March of 2014

*30 treatment mental health employees vacant in March, then 27 in April and 25 in May

*3 security supervisors vacant from January through May 2014

*9 security officers vacant in January, down to 8 in February; 4 in March; 3 in April and 2 in May

dcf46Correct Care is involved in corrective action plans with DCF addressing these deficiencies.

One of the Corrective Action Plans notes: “The facility has developed a robust recruitment and retention program including the hiring of a corporate healthcare recruiter to fill vacancies. The facility HR department is working with department managers to schedule interviews and hire the most qualified candidates to serve our resident population.”

Florida’s Director of the Sexually Violent Predator Program, former prosecutor Kristin Kanner, says the company is spending more on staffing now than in the past. “We’re going forward and they have made moves to amend the contract… The staffing is in the residents’ favor for more treatment and more treatment programs.”

The state’s contract with Geo Care was amended for a name change to Correct Care.

The contract was also amended so that Correct Care no longer needs to submit all policies it develops to the Florida DCF for approval.

Bob Libal is the executive director of Grassroots Leadership in Austin Texas, which is a non-profit fighting to end for-profit incarceration – claiming no one should profit by the imprisonment of human beings.

MichiganHe described Correct Care as a spin-off of GEO, which he notes is “deeply embedded in Florida.”

Overall, Libal says there “appears to be a conflict of incentives” at play and the center is on the radar of his organization and others like it.

Geo has also made headlines elsewhere recently for misspending millions in a troubled prison it runs, according to an April report on a Department of Justice audit.

The Virginia ACLU called privatizing civil commitment of sex offendersunwise.

“Unlike state-run facilities, the bottom line for for-profit prisons is to make money, and the best way to do that is to cut costs,” according to a release from the Virginia ACLU. “Studies show that private facilities, for example, have higher staff turnover, less experienced staff, and often fewer staff than state facilities.”

The Florida ACLU did not respond to our requests for comment.

Kanner says the predominate goal is offender treatment and rehab at Florida Civil Commitment Center. “I don’t think there is a conflict of interest,” she said.

The Florida Civil Commitment Center recently made headlines when a man being held there was sent back to prison for 100 years after he was found with numerous images of child pornography on a flash drive and an MP3 player.

No one from Correct Care would tell us exactly how this happened. Kanner said she has not asked specifically about how it happened but it is not surprising to her that it did.

“This is not a glaring problem at the center,” said Kanner. “I don’t think anything having to do with their staffing had anything to do with it.”

There was also an escape from the Arcadia center in 2008. No one ever said how Bruce A. Young got out – but he was ultimately captured within a week.

dcf222From 2004 to 2009, DCF was sued in a federal class action lawsuit alleging unconstitutional conditions of confinement at the facility. The suit was settled and dismissed in 2009 because the conditions and treatment opportunities improved.


The state has paid GEO Group – which changed its name on the contract with the Florida Department of Children and Families last August to Geo Care and is now named Correct Care – $68.8 million to run the facility. The total contract, executed in 2006, is for more than $272 million set to expire in 2019.

Even though the nation’s other states that commit violent sexual predators don’t entirely involve for-profit companies to run their programs, Florida’s governor has been a proponent of the private company running the facility in Arcadia, citing cost savings.

Meanwhile, GEO has made millions off the Arcadia facility.

The company increased revenues between 2006 and 2007 by $14.2 million just from the Florida Civil Commitment Center, according to the company’s 2008 annual report.

tricky ricky1A few years later, in 2012, Gov. Rick Scott endowed GEO Group with the State of Florida Governor’s Savings Award – for its “commitment to fiscal responsibility by implementing bold and innovative cost-saving business practices while increasing the effectiveness of state government operations.”

Gov. Scott’s office declined to specify what exactly the bold and innovative cost-saving business practices were – and how GEO increased the effectiveness of government operations.

A spokesperson for Scott’s office would only say in June that award is no longer being given and declined to say why.

Indeed, the daily cost for one person at the Florida Civil Commitment Center is less than other similar programs throughout the country.

“I don’t think the state could do any better job than they’re doing,” said Kanner.

Under a contract, the state pays a daily rate of $102.28 to Correct Care for up to 680 residents – that’s in addition to $18,333 per month for additional clinical therapists.

The daily rate can fluctuate, though based on how many people are being held. If there are more than 680 people, the daily rate dwindles to $69.90.

If there are less than 650 residents, the daily rate goes back up to $102.28 – which has been the case for the 2014-2015 fiscal year through March of 2015.

The State of Washington was the first to civilly commit violent sexual predators and has never considered privatization. Officials there say the state spends between $335 and $1,057 per day on its civilly committed sex offenders at four different facilities – but note their costs are significantly affected by the facility’s location – on an island in Puget Sound accessible only by barge or ferry.

It costs $49.49 per day for an inmate in a Florida prison.

The facility hasn’t always been in Arcadia, but it has always had a private company operating it under contract with DCF.

Moreover, the state has never considered in-sourcing this back to state control and management, nor has a contract audit ever been done, the Florida Accountability Contract Tracking System shows.

The program began in the Martin Treatment Center and was mostly run by Liberty Behavioral Health Care. At that time, GEO was still involved – holding sexually violent predator detainees awaiting commitment proceedings in a unit of the South Bay Correctional Facility.

In 2000, a move was made to Arcadia, under the contract with Liberty Behavioral Health. There were reports of lax security that ended in violence, the introduction of contraband and disorder inside. In 2004, inmates moved into the yard and lived there for months until they were forcibly removed by hundreds of officers.

After that, DCF terminated its contract with Liberty and entered into a new one with GEO in 2006.

GEO also got a design-build contract to construct a new facility for the program in Arcadia, which is owned by the state and made GEO millions.

The construction of Florida Civil Commitment Center in Arcadia increased GEO’s revenues by $22.1 million, according to the company’s 2008 annual report.

Correct Care declined to say what its most recent profit margins are. The company also runs three other facilities in Florida. South Florida Evaluation and Treatment Center in Florida City was publicly run until 2005, when it became the first privately-managed forensic mental health facility in the country.

Correct Care has also operated South Florida State Hospital in Pembroke Pines since 1998. It was the first facility of its kind in the nation to be completely privatized.

They also run Treasure Coast Forensic Treatment Center in Indiantown.


Private company profits aside, close ties between the governor and GEO’s CEO have been scrutinized.

Tricky Ricky

Tricky Ricky

Last July, for example, it was reported that GEO CEO George Zoley was hosting a $10,000 per person fundraiser at his Boca Raton home for Scott’s re-election campaign and the Republican Party of Florida.

People from GEO Group and Correct care are listed on the latest lobbyist directory for the Legislature.

The company’s contract with the state to run the Arcadia facility prohibits the use of contract funds to lobby the Legislature.

Kanner notes she is also a legislative lobbyist along with many people in the state’s capital.

“I don’t think it’s a problem,” Kanner said. “I’ve never been present where my program was discussed where Correct Care was lobbying any legislator so I don’t see it as a problem.”


Data on recidivism – or repeat offense after release – was provided by DCF. It shows a rate of recidivism of 8.6-percent for people who completed the treatment and went on to do another sexually motivated crime.

“You could look at 8.6 and say it’s not working – or at 91.4-percent and say it is working,” said Kanner, who believes it is “pretty successful.”

“They do a really good job with the treatment program,” she said.

Meanwhile, Washington’s more expensive program appears to show an impeccable record of success.

“As of April 30, 2015, the SCC has no record of any unconditionally or conditionally released residents who participated in treatment who have committed a sex re-offense,” said Mindy Chambers, spokesperson for the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services. “The court has revoked the release of 11 of 74 residents conditionally released to a Less Restrictive Alternative due to violations of release conditions, not re-offense. Most of these individuals eventually returned to the Less Restrictive Alternative after corrective intervention, with a subsequent unconditional release.”

At the Florida Civil Commitment Center, the recidivism rate from this facility for a new sex conviction is not much different than the rate of recidivism from prisons – 3.3 percent for Arcadia’s civil commitment center, compared to 3.8 percent after regular detention release.

The treatment program takes at least six years to complete, though confinement is indefinite unless or until a court lets them out. Every year, the detainees get an annual review on the anniversary of their commitment date.

Most of the men are released by courts before completing the entire treatment regimen.

Of around 820 men released from the program; only about 15-percent completed through the end stage of treatment. At least 1,700 have been committed throughout the course of the program, with dozens also at the facility awaiting the trial to officially commit them there.

Failure to complete treatment is an indicator of recidivism, according to Kanner. “I think that is potentially a problem.”


Better staff is key to reforming Department of Children and Families

The Florida Department of Children and Families has been plagued by controversies in recent years, putting the lives of the state’s most vulnerable children at risk.

dcf46Problems came to light most recently through an impressive investigation by the Miami Herald and a grand jury report that led to a massive reform bill in the state Legislature last year.

Typically, such investigations are followed by calls for more funding. Check.

There are calls for more staff to reduce the case load of staff investigators. Check.

But a true solution is more basic than that. Anyone in business knows that you can’t operate efficiently if you can’t find and retain good staff.

“No issue has a greater effect on the capacity of the child welfare system to effectively serve vulnerable children and families than the shortage of a competent and stable workforce,” reported the Child Welfare League of America.


Yet reforms in DCF will never take place until the department reduces its massive rate of turnover.

At one point in the Northeast Florida region, it was a jaw-dropping 50 percent. Now it is at 30 percent, still too high, said David Abramowitz, Northeast regional secretary for DCF.

There is no way to operate effectively when inexperienced staff are reporting to inexperienced supervisors.


Florida typically graduates 1,500 people or more from its 14 schools of social work each year. But many of them must leave the state, tragically.

The bachelor’s of social work degree requires a structured internship with extensive supervision by a master’s level social worker and many hours of coursework.


Yet in the past, DCF only allowed a wide variety of experience that implied a lack of respect for the social work degree.

This does not respect the incredible demands on child welfare investigators, which combines the hard talents of investigating families in crisis with the soft skills of providing services to families.

“They are exposed to people in places and under conditions that most of us could never imagine,” reported a Miami-Dade grand jury.

Turnover in the social work profession began to receive public attention in the 1970s. Christina Maslach created a way to test for it with the Maslach Burnout Inventory. A book titled “Burnout Among Social Workers” co-edited by Maslach was published in 1987.


Research showed that more experienced social workers were less prone to burnout.

Loving kids is not enough, said Pamela Graham, director of the Bachelor’s of Social Work and Professional Development Program at Florida State University.

Many of FSU’s interns did not stay with DCF after being hired, according to a legislative staff analysis.

A FSU survey looked for reasons:

■ Poor management and administration.

■ Poor professional support.

■ A lack of respect and not feeling valued by upper management.

■ Too little teamwork with employees.

Investigators often work long hours, entering unsafe neighborhoods at late hours, but did not feel enough concern from their supervisors.

Too often staffers are placed in a position where “they don’t know what they don’t know,” Graham said, supervised by people who aren’t much help.



Neither pay nor caseloads are the real issues, she said. It’s about creating a highly skilled professional class of employees.

A report from the American Public Human Services Association lists strategies to prevent burnout and turnover.

■ Good supervision from someone who cares about the worker as a person.

■ Increased training, education and technological support.

■ An agency mission that makes workers feel important.

■ Dependable management support and commitment to workers.

The new state legislation will begin building that professionalism along with an institute based at Florida State to research best practices.

Currently only about 10 percent of DCF investigators statewide have social work degrees; it’s about 6 percent in the Northeast region.

It may take till 2019 before 50 percent of DCF staff have social work degrees.

It might take a decade to build a department that is fully professionalized.

Abramowitz said he is doing a much more thorough hiring job. New employees are being told that being an investigator may mean working nights and weekends. Since January, there have been 800 applications for DCF jobs and just 25 people have been hired, he said, a reflection of higher standards.

In a telephone interview, Graham said that DCF has made good strides in hiring social work graduates for entry level positions. The more difficult issue is to find qualified supervisors. An entry level employee who is being poorly supervised is likely to leave, she said.

Abramowitz said he is increasing training for supervisors and also is willing to hire out-of-state to find quality supervisors. DCF is filling eight Critical Child Safety Practice Expert positions in the 20-county Northeast Florida region.

The people who fill these positions will be responsible for conducting rapid safety quality assurance reviews of cases involving children deemed to be at high risk for critical injuries and death.

Despite all these difficulties, he said, child safety is not negotiable.

But for far too long, employee qualifications were negotiable.


Woman Charged With Falsifying Records

SEBRING — A former family case manager supervisor for a social service agency dealing with foster children and children at risk for neglect or abuse may have falsified records to boost statistics, according to a warrant released Thursday.

Woman Charged With Falsifying RecordsLindsay Bass, 30, 4757 E. Avon Pines Road, Avon Park, was arrested by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and charged with two felony counts of falsification of records. She claimed on two occasions to have visited with families, but had not done so, the warrant indicates.

At the time of the alleged falsification of records, Bass worked at One Hope United, an agency that among other things deals with placement of foster children, training of prospective foster parents and helping families where a risk exists of abuse or neglect of children. One Hope is a Florida Department of Children and Families that provides services in Hardee and Highlands counties.

An employee at One Hope told authorities that “Bass was only concerned with her unit having the top statistics for the OHU office,” the warrant said.

OHU officials refused to comment on the situation.

“Due to privacy procedures meant to ensure the protection and confidentiality of the children who may be affected, it is One Hope United’s policy to not comment on such cases,” OHU Executive Vice President Barbara Moss said in an emailed statement. “Any situation that raises concerns about impropriety is quickly investigated and rectified. As always, One Hope United is serious about its commitment to strengthening families and protecting children.”


The warrant said that OHU Director Michelle Ramirez reported to the DCF Office of Inspector General that Bass in May 2014 falsely documented entries involving a family. The warrant said the complaint was that Bass said she attended a court hearing in Okeechobee County on May 27, 2014, but claimed it actually occurred the following day. Ramirez also reported that Bass said she made a home visit to a family in Port St. Lucie on May 28, but that did not occur.

Another One Hope employee said that while Bass claimed to have accompanied her on a visit with the family, that never occurred, the warrant said.

The employee said that after they attended a judicial hearing, Bass wanted her to state in the records that it was actually a home visit, the warrant said. The employee said she refused to do so.

Members of the family involved did not recall Bass visiting them, the warrant said.


DCF Faulted For Oversight Of Privatized Agencies

— Two reports presented to lawmakers recently criticized the Florida Department of Children and Families for poor oversight of the privatized agencies that deliver child-welfare, substance-abuse and mental-health services statewide.


The reports arrived as the Legislature is considering further changes to all those services.

The Florida Office of the Auditor General published its findings last month and reviewed them with members of the Senate Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee.

One report faulted the state’s oversight of what are known as managing entities, which oversee the delivery of substance-abuse and mental-health services.

With lawmakers focused on improving those services this year, the managing entities could be revamped under a bill (SB 7068) ready for a vote by the full Senate. The House version (HB 7119) is ready to go to the full House.

The other report criticized the state’s oversight of community-based care organizations, known as CBCs, which provide foster care, adoption and family-support services.


The agencies have been under legislative scrutiny in recent years for a series of child deaths from abuse and neglect. Now, lawmakers are revisiting a child-welfare reform law passed last year — and the possibility of more funding for the CBCs to provide mental-health and substance-abuse treatment, among other services.

Together, the reports point to shortcomings in the Department of Children and Families’ monitoring of the privatized agencies, which receive hundreds of millions of dollars a year to coordinate and deliver services in their regions.

“The department did not always adequately conduct, document, review, and report the results of (community based care agencies) monitoring,” noted the report on the foster-care services.

“The department could not provide documentation supporting the conclusions reached on cost analyses performed for (managing entity) contracts awarded on a noncompetitive basis,” said the report on mental-health and substance-abuse services. “The department had not always documented that employees involved in the contractor evaluation and selection process attested in writing that they were independent of, and had no conflict of interest in, the MEs (managing entities) evaluated and selected.”

 Mike Carroll

Mike Carroll

What’s more, department monitoring of the managing entities “did not ensure that all key assessment factors and performance measures were included in the scope of its monitoring activities. Additionally, the department did not always appropriately document that proper follow-up on ME actions was taken to correct deficiencies identified through monitoring.”

Department of Children and Families Secretary Mike Carroll, in a response to both reports, wrote, “The department generally concurs with the findings.”

The criticism comes as the House and Senate prepare to vote on whether to alter the way the seven statewide managing entities bid on Department of Children and Families contracts.

The House and Senate bills would require those contracts to be performance-based and to include consequences for failing to comply. What’s more, the House proposal would require that at least two managing entities bid on each contract — or the bidding process could be opened to for-profit companies and Medicaid managed-care organizations.

Members of the Senate Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee questioned Lisa Norman, an audit manager with the Auditor General’s Office, on the reports, and some of the individual agencies objected to specific findings.

For instance, the report faulted Our Kids, the community-based care agency serving Miami-Dade and Monroe counties, for expenditures related to a $28,000 graduation event for young adults in the Independent Living program. The costs included $6,684 for food for 250 guests, which the Auditor General’s report found an inappropriate expenditure under state law.


“We recommend that Our Kids, in consultation with the department, make appropriate funding source adjustments for the unallowable costs related to the graduation event,” said the report.

But in her written response to the report, Our Kids president and CEO Jackie Gonzalez said that the event helps young people in foster care build their self-esteem.

“Our Kids has received approval from DCF for this event since we began acknowledging the success of our students in a ceremony in 2009 and did not think it necessary to receive approval each year,” the response said. “We believe that (the Auditor General) is taking an overly narrow view.”

Committee Chairwoman Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, asked Norman how Our Kids could have done the event differently.

“Use private funds,” Norman replied.

Christina Spudeas, executive director of the advocacy group Florida’s Children First, reminded lawmakers that under former DCF Secretary David Wilkins, the department had slashed most of its quality-assurance positions — which had performed some of the monitoring.

“They went down 70 positions,” Spudeas said. “Two years ago, you gave funding, but only reinstituted one-half of those. We need the rest of those positions to do full quality assurance, quality improvement, for the programs around the state. It’s very important for the children in care.”

As to the managing entities, the chief executive officer of one of them, Linda McKenna of the Central Florida Behavioral Health Network, said that the four selected for the Auditor General’s scrutiny “were the newest managing entities in the state and had all recently come up and were developing their procedures.”


Mark Fontaine, executive director of the Florida Alcohol and Drug Abuse Association, agreed, but said it was clear that lawmakers were “redefining their expectations” for the managing entities and their coordination of the services they provide.

“The expectations on the MEs are going to be greater,” Fontaine said. “It’s more like shifting to health-care management: ‘Let’s look at the people we’re serving and figure out how to do better services for those people.’ “


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?