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?



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..

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