There currently seems to be more than the usual abundance of gloomy news; unrest in the Middle East, nuclear catastrophe in Japan, a continuously sluggish US economy, and sadly in my local news a spate of child abuse incidents in which children died. During the eleven years I worked as a child advocate (Guardian ad Litem) for children who were either, abused, neglected, or abandoned, my personal nightmare was something terrible happening to a child that I was personally assigned to advocate in the child’s best interest, or more generally, to any child whose case was assigned to my Guardian Program. A horrifying case in Dade County, south of where I worked, has been publicized over the last few weeks. Police came upon a van parked on the side of Interstate 95 and noticed an adult male passed out on the ground. In the van they found a little girl, dead, and her brother half-dead. Both had been adopted by the man lying on the ground and his wife. It is alleged that the children’s father beat the girl to death, and poured pesticide chemicals over the boy. I’ll spare you the rest of the details, but the mother was allegedly aware of everything going on, and both the father and mother were arrested and currently are in jail awaiting a possible death penalty trial. Numerous abuse hot line calls were made over time by concerned parties to no avail. The court-appointed Guardian ad Litem expressed concerns prior to the children’s adoption, but his objections fell on deaf ears, he was subsequently removed from the case, and the adoption went forward. two years later, the father’s van was found on the side of the highway. For a few weeks there was a public outcry from both the public, and elected officials; a three member expert panel was established and within two weeks, hearings were held and a fourteen page report was issued. The newly appointed Secretary for Florida’s Department of Children and Families (DCF) [with no previous social service job experience] this week made recommendations to hopefully improve oversight. Excuses were made, a few people were fired, some promises were made. In brief, Florida’s child welfare system totally collapsed in this case, with catastrophic results. The story is now out of the news and replaced with an equally horrific case, this time in Palm Beach County, and as facts are becoming known, the system is under fire once again.
Florida’s legislature is now in their annual two-month legislative session, where I would predict precious few additional resources will be directed to the State’s social service area. To my knowledge, the newly elected Governor never spoke publicly on the tragedy, and I can only guess he must have been too busy developing a corporate tax cut plan for the legislature to pass, and other assorted private industry benefits. Since 2001, Florida’s social services agencies have struggled to serve people in need because of the lack of proper funding necessary to get the job done. Today I believe the child dependency system in Florida is completely broken and needs overhauling from top to bottom. The resources necessary to accomplish this would be considerable and difficult to fund considering the approximate $3.5 billion shortfall in revenues. Until the Governor and Legislature prioritize policies that elevate the protection of our children over special interests and appropriate the necessary monies to help ensure dependent children are safe, thriving and receiving necessary services, horror stories are likely to repeat. No system is perfect, but Florida’s current child dependency system has a long way to go just to be adequate. Tears of a child should show us the way, if only we are wise enough to follow.