DCF Responds To Spate Of Child Deaths With New Training Program

By: Lynn Hatter, WFSU
Published: Wendesday, July 10, 2013

Florida Department of Children and Families officials say the deaths of four children in six weeks in May and June have led to meaningful changes in the organization.  But the agency’s critics say the fixes don’t go far enough.

The Florida Department of Children and Families is retraining more than 5,000 case workers in an effort to stave off future deaths of children in the agency’s care. But DCF Secretary David Wilkins says there’s no guarantee a child will never die on their watch again:

“We are dealing with dysfunctional families. On average a child dies every day in Florida from abuse and neglect. Most people don’t realize that, but that’s the reality that is happening,” Wilkins said.

Robin Rosenberg with the advocacy group Florida’s Children First, says while the additional training is a step in the right direction, she believes a bigger issue is a lack of transparency when kids die:

“I think the public and the child welfare community need to have better knowledge and really be looking at what are we learning and how are we appropriately responding to deaths?”

The changes DCF is putting in place now are a response to a 2011 case where a child was killed by her foster parents, despite numerous reports of abuse to the department.

Meanwhile the agency has managed to exceeded its goal of recruiting more than 1200 new foster parents. DCF began the push because too many children were in group homes. But that problem persists.

“Over the years we’ve reduced the number of kids in foster care from a number in the 30,000 to today we have 17,000. But today we still have 25 percent in group care. We’ve got to find more foster parents, but not just more, but quality foster parents,” Wilkins said.

A child enters foster care when they are removed by the state from their parents. Teenagers and sibling groups are more likely to reside in group homes, while younger children are more likely to be fostered by a family and adopted.  But foster care is expensive, and for the past several years the Department has been focusing on offering troubled families counseling and other support services so children can stay in their homes.

For more news updates, follow Lynn Hatter on twitter @HatterLynn

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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.

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