DCF resignation a hopeful change

By Howard M. Talenfeld
Published: Wednesday, July 24, 2013


It”s been a deadly time for children under the watch of the Florida Department of Children and Families and the community-based care or the lead agencies charged with keeping kids safe.

Five children have died from abuse or neglect in the last three months. In the cases of 5-month-old Bryan Osceola, 2-year-old Ezra Raphael, 4-year-old Antwan Hope, and 1-year-old Fernando Barahona, DCF or its contracted agencies knew about threats to health or safety in the children”s homes. Yet, caseworkers and investigators approved visits or the children”s continued placement in dangerous settings. Some caseworkers falsified reports; some weren”t even certified to work for the agencies.

Now, finally, people are seeking answers. We applaud state Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, head of the Florida Senate Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee, who is calling for hearings regarding DCF lapses.

We believe Sen. Sobel and her committee will discover what child advocates have feared all along — that the transparency, common sense and sense of urgency infused into DCF during four years of significant, positive reforms under former DCF secretaries Bob Butterworth and George Sheldon have been eliminated by current Secretary David Wilkins.

For example, during three years of “reforms,” all with the goal of cutting DCF ”s budget,” Secretary Wilkins voluntarily eliminated 70-plus key DCF quality assurance personnel. Without these watchdogs, DCF lost its eyes and ears regarding agency performance and couldn”t ensure kids were safe.

He is removing the oversight of the experienced DCF supervisory reviewers who determine if investigators have made appropriate risk assessments. Instead, he is implementing a new, untested risk assessment tool.

Secretary Wilkins, you had the momentum of four years of agency improvement, the tools and the manpower. You stripped it away, and Bryan, Ezra, Antwan and Fernando died.

In my 25 years working with the state child protection system, I”ve never witnessed the spate of deaths we”ve seen this year. Without oversight, DCF is blind, rudderless and reactionary. It”s especially disheartening that Secretary Wilkins doesn”t recognize how far off the course his agency has strayed.

Howard M. Talenfeld is president and founder of Florida”s Children First, the state”s premier child advocacy organization.

Share this article:


Related Posts

Alexia Nechayev

FYS Events & Meeting Chair
(Palm Beach)

Hello, My name is Alexia Nechayev. I am 25 years old and I am an alumna of Florida International University where I received my B.A. in Psychology. My future career goal is to be a Lawyer. I was in care for about one year from age 17 to 18. Prior to entering care, I only knew about the negative stigma regarding foster care and while in care that narrative was unfortunately my experience.

In school I felt like I was on display because my status in care was broadcast to other students and in my placement behavior was leveraged for “privileges” that should be a natural right of all children. Because I did not know my rights I did not know that what I was experiencing was wrong. Today this is exactly why I advocate, because I don’t want this to be the same for other youth who are experiencing foster care.

This is my second year on the FYS Statewide Board and I’m happy to be the Events and Meetings Chair this year because my main goal through advocacy is to reach as many people as possible. My favorite thing as a board member is to see how comfortable members become while working together. The community needs to know that youth in foster care are real people, going through some of the hardest moments of their life and youth need to know that their voice is powerful. I believe that we have to speak up and bring these issues to people’s attention so that they do not forget us. Advocacy, education and consistency is the only way.

Skip to content