Child Welfare Bills Differ, But Both Chambers Offer Ambitious Response to Deaths

By: Margie Menzel News Service of Florida | Posted: March 17, 2014 3:55 AM
Child abuse

After a series of highly publicized child deaths last year, the House and Senate are taking different approaches to fixing the state child-welfare system -- but both are considering ambitious measures that cover a lot of ground.

Both chambers would require more professionalism -- with an emphasis on social-work skills -- for child protective investigators. Both would keep siblings together in the state system and help families care for medically complex children. Both would require the Department of Children and Families to publish the basic facts of all deaths of children reported to the state abuse hotline. And both would create critical incident response teams to conduct immediate investigations of those deaths and other serious episodes of child abuse and neglect.

"These are our kids -- we have got to make sure that they are safe," said Rep. Gayle Harrell, the Stuart Republican who chairs the House Healthy Families Subcommittee. "We are not done. We are going to work at this and work at this until we get it right."

On Wednesday, Harrell led her panel through a workshop on the House's omnibus child welfare reform bill (PCB HFS 14-03). The day before, the Senate Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee unanimously passed three bills (SB 1666, SB 1668 and SB 1670) that contain many of the same provisions.

The sweeping legislation is the result of a wave of child deaths last year that sparked outrage and contributed to the resignation of the secretary of the Department of Children and Families last July.

Since then, legislative hearings have shown that turnover at the top of the department -- which has had seven secretaries and interim secretaries since 1999 -- is contributing to a system-wide instability that lawmakers want to address.

For instance, both chambers are proposing a new position, assistant DCF secretary for child welfare, because the secretary is responsible for too many areas -- mental health, substance abuse, domestic violence, homelessness, hunger and more.

Both chambers are also proposing a consortium of state university social-work programs called the Florida Institute for Child Welfare, which would conduct research and policy analysis to advise the state and improve the education and training of the child-welfare workforce.

"It would be a brain trust," Harrell said. "Secretaries come and go -- this would be maintained."

And both chambers are proposing new education and training requirements for child protective investigators, although the Senate's are more sweeping. The Senate plan would require 80 percent of newly-hired CPIs and their supervisors to hold college degrees in social work, while helping current employees with loans and tuition waivers if they pursue such a degree.

The House bill offers CPIs and their supervisors three options: they must have a college degree in social work; a degree in a human services-related field with 12 hours of relevant coursework; or a degree in a human services-related field and agree to complete 12 hours of relevant coursework within three years.

The biggest difference between the chambers involves safety planning for children who could be in danger of maltreatment. The Senate plan doesn't change the current system, which limits DCF investigations to 60 days, within which the child protective investigator must verify the abuse.

"But what the investigator can't do is ensure that there's any kind of safety for the child after that 60-day period of time," said Howard Talenfeld, president of the advocacy group Florida’s Children First. "A parent can say ... 'This was a terrible incident. I got drunk and I'm going to fix the problem.' ... That's the hole in the bill right now. Because there's no jurisdiction, you can't ensure safety no matter how good your investigators are."

Talenfeld urged the Senate panel to adopt a House provision that would not rely on promises by a parent, caregiver or legal custodian when developing a plan to ensure the child's safety as the result of an investigation.

"We want to make sure safety plans are followed," Harrell said.

So does Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Cindy Lederman, a national expert on child welfare.

"The scope of the investigations must be expanded to include family functioning and family history," Lederman said. "Without that, these children are still in danger."

But the biggest bone of contention could be lawmakers' efforts to update the statutes dealing with the state's 19 privatized community-based care lead agencies, known as CBCs. The CBCs receive $769 million a year from the state to coordinate adoption, foster care and case-management services for children who have been removed from their homes.

Both the House and the Senate are proposing an outcome-based accountability system that would "monitor the use of resources, the quality and amount of services provided, and child and family outcomes," as the House bill states.

And both chambers' proposals would strengthen local community alliances, groups of volunteers and providers that are already supposed to help govern the CBCs. If the bills pass, the community alliances would conduct a needs assessment, set community priorities and review the performances of both the lead agencies and the Department of Children and Families for the local area. The alliances could choose to look for another lead agency, or extend the current one's contract.

"It virtually guts the whole model of community-based care," said Stephen Spivey, the former dependency court judge who serves on the board of Kids Central, the CBC for Citrus, Hernando, Lake, Marion and Sumter counties.

On Wednesday, former state representative Kurt Kelly, representing the CBCs, agreed to meet with Harrell -- with whom he served in the House -- about the lead agencies' concerns. He also urged the House panel to "make sure that we're properly resourcing" them.

Kelly and others have argued that with Gov. Rick Scott proposing nearly $40 million this year for 400 additional child protective investigators, there will be a greater need for local caseworkers to make sure children get the services they need.

Lederman said caseworkers -- who are supervised and paid by the CBCs -- should have been included in the education, training and tuition waiver provisions of the bills.

"If protective investigations really are done in a competent manner, more children will be coming into care," Lederman said. "We need more and more qualified caseworkers and, right now, the workforce of qualified caseworkers has been depleted."

But Harrell said it depends on funds. "I haven't gotten any indication from (House Speaker Will Weatherford) that there's any money right now for that. But that would be something I would be very interested in looking at moving forward.

"We want to upgrade the workforce of all of our individuals who have hands-on with these children."

Tags: News, Politics

Comments (4)

schemeing to defraud
7:43AM MAR 18TH 2014
Anyone ever notice the numbers of buzzards who come to dine on the road kill on the side of the road? The bigger the carcasses the more buzzards come to dine! The more meat the more to eat!

So, they take $769 MILLION and spread it around to 19 privatized organizations each and every one of them is expected to share the wealth by greasing the right palms to get that high dollar contract to start with. And this is just the icing on cake. Millions and Millions more are up for grabs!

Kids Central, Inc. must be really connected to the big shots. Their share looks like about $228 MILLION alone. So that’s $541 MILLION left to spread around the other 18 “Lead Agencies.”

Check out their Florida State Corporate filing update in 2006. Their main goal “to privatize Children’s Services.” Not to take care of the children but to create a cash cow of tax dollars available to those well connected to the system.

Before Jerry Cooper was the CEO of Kids Central, Inc. he was a big shot with DCF, the previous CEO was Kurt Kelly privatizing and sharing the wealth. Now that Kurt Kelly lost his last election he is the CEO of something called Coalition for Children. State Representative Marleen O”Toole who represents the Villages has a non-profit called Take Stock in Children. But if she has her way that little sideline job that pays her $50 THOUSAND a year is top secret!

Rep. Marlene O’Toole, R-Lady Lake - dual roles as chief operating officer of the nonprofit Take Stock in Children and vice chair of the House education appropriations committee that approved $6 million for the same Miami nonprofit in this year’s budget. [hum Miami nonprofit huh?]
Take Stock in Children was awarded an additional $9.1 million from the state’s $200 million mortgage settlement. O’Toole, a former IBM executive with a thick Boston accent, voted on both matters. In neither case did she disclose she’s paid $50,000 a year by the group.

She says her salary is “not paid for out of funds provided by the State of Florida to Take Stock in Children, but out of private dollars that are raised by that organization to assist with management and oversight.”
Further, she downplayed her role as vice chair of the education appropriations committee.

“My role was the same as all other members of the subcommittee,” O’Toole wrote in an email. “Worksheets were presented, line items were vetted and evaluated, and the subcommittee submitted recommendations to the appropriations chair.”

From the very beginning of the budget process earlier this year, O’Toole’s committee was proposing to spend $6 million on Take Stock in Children. Throughout, O’Toole didn’t publicly disclose that she was getting paid $50,000 by the group.

During a March 27 education appropriations meeting in which it was announced that $6 million had been set aside for TSIC, O’Toole lauded the budget process as a tough, but fair one without mentioning her other job.

It seems every one of these so formerly so called public servants is not compensated on the side by some non-profit. Everyone has a scheme. That's why they don't have time to do the people work they are too busy scheming to defraud the very people they are supposed to work for.

What does it take to make these people disclose their sweet little deals? Laws after laws have been passed and the continue to ignore them without being held accountable for their actions.
children deserve real honesty
6:00AM MAR 18TH 2014
Yes, Florida’s Juvenile prison system is privatized. This massive State government privatization effort has been in high gear since Jeb Bush took over the state of Florida.

The Sources of George W. Bush's $41 Million Texas War Chest
The Bush Profiteers: 100 Donors Who Enjoy Hands-off, Handout Government
In identifying the economic and ideological interests of Bush’s donors, researchers kept coming across large contributors who became known as the Bush Profiteers. Many of these Bush Profiteers are: Corporate welfare kings who derived a portion of their personal wealth from the taxpayers; or Donors who appear to have an interest in taking the regulatory cops off the beat.
In fact, many large Bush donors straddle both camps, seeming to want the government off their backs except when it is giving them taxpayers money. The ranks of the Bush Profiteers include corporate welfare kings, snake oil salesmen, money launderers, tax evaders, tort dodgers, tobacco hacks and toxic waste dumpers.
The following Bush Profiteer profiles cite the total amount of money that the Profiteers contributed to Bush’s two gubernatorial campaigns (some totals include the contributions of nuclear family members).

And, YES #65 - Richard L. Scott (Ft. Worth): $10,000 is now known as Florida governor Rick Scott! This little investment paid off well. Rick Scott parlayed that into a partnership with George W. Bush and Tom Hicks in the Texas Rangers, and along with Richard Rainwater a take over of hospitals, many of which in South Florida were previously owned by Jeb Bush’s friend a partner Miguel Recarey – along with Recarey’s operation’s of massive Medicare Fraud. Hence the Bush connections kept Rick Scott out of the Federal Pen and allowed him to take the fifth seventy-five times and walk away “scot free.”

You can not put a criminal in charge of any organization and expect that organization to abide by the law! They don't call them law breakers for nothing!

So, as governor of Florida Rick Scott inherited this massive privatization schemes to defraud the taxpayers of Florida organized by Jeb Bush and like his educational push for Common Core still under the influence of Jeb Bush and his Bush machine. Bush’s plans for everything revolves around control of his environment. This is a pay to play operation from the get go. Therefore every vendor must reward certain people for the award of their contracts. You will see than most are no bid contracts to begin with. Along with this criminal empire much like the old mob days come the protection. Pay to play this game and you are protected from prosecution for the crimes you commit.

Cases in point. One of the private Juvenile facilities mentioned in the story is Youth Services International, who has frequently covered up reports that staff sexually abused young people held inside its facilities. According to a suit filed in October in federal court, the top administrator at one YSI youth prison regularly made sexual advances toward teenage boys held there in 2010 and 2011 and on at least one occasion brought inmates home with him and into his bedroom. A separate case filed in Florida court in November alleges that a female guard at another YSI facility in 2012 began an "intimate and sexual relationship" with a 14-year-old inmate.
"They used to tell us, 'If something's going on, don't call the police, call a supervisor,'" said the former employee, Kamel Warren. "They don't want people to come in, investigate and find out what was really going on in this facility."

State juvenile justice officials did not learn of the administrator's actions until 11 months after the alleged events occurred. Even then, the reports came only after an outside attorney representing former YSI employees heard about the incidents and went directly to the state, according to DJJ complaint logs. Documents show that supervisors at YSI were aware of the allegations involving the administrator but did not report them to the state.

The federal lawsuit centers on allegations that Craig Ferguson, the top administrator at YSI's Thompson Academy from 2010 through 2012, took boys home with him on at least one occasion and touched them inappropriately both while off campus and at the prison.
Ferguson no longer works for YSI, he denied all of the allegations about taking boys home, taking his shirt off and touching them inappropriately, calling the assertions "foolishness."

But the problem is, first YSI failed to report these crimes to the DCF hotline! And even when leaks of the crimes surfaced no one began a criminal investigation into the actions of Craig Ferguson! He is protected from prosecution by the privatization actions of the pay to play schemes.
Trips outside a youth prison facility are allowed only in special circumstances, according to state regulations, and a parent typically must give consent. Tomonica Allen, the mother of one of the boys, said she knew nothing of the outside activities until after her son was released. "Every time my child left, why didn't they inform me that he was gone for two, three, four hours?" she said in an interview. "Why didn't I ever know this until he got out?"

Florida officials at the Department of Juvenile Justice did not investigate these alleged incidents until months and even nearly a year after they occurred, according to accounts from the mothers of the victims and documents obtained. This was because the for-profit prison operator failed not only to immediately report the episodes as required under its contracts with the state, but also violated Florida’s Statute on mandatory reporting requirements for suspicion of child abuse as well.
The actions of YSI and its mis-management team is identical to those of the FDOC vendors BRIDGES of AMERICA who for two decades along with Lake County Sheriff Gary Borders run a how for wayward boys called Green Isle Boys Ranch. Two decades of sex abuse of the boys at Green isle leaked to the surface over and over and over and not one person was ever arrested for their actions at Green Isle. This home has recently been closed again for all the same reasons! Research the struggles the victims of the Dozier School of Marianna (The White House Boys) have had with Florida government to get an honest investigation into the mysterious deaths at Dozier over its century of operations.

The lawsuits reinforce the findings of a recent private investigation that revealed more than two decades of abuse and neglect inside private prisons operated by Youth Services International and other companies run by its founder, James Slattery. This investigation focused particular attention on the state of Florida, which has become emblematic of a nationwide trend in which growing numbers of prisoners of all ages are placed inside institutions operated by for-profit companies. Corrections Corporation of America, The GEO Group are two more operating adult prisons and county jails in Florida. All are major contributors to the right people to always get the right contracts.

This private investigation detailed multiple instances of young inmates at YSI facilities in Florida complaining of having been beaten, sexually assaulted or neglected by guards only to have their reports buried or minimized. Former staff at these prisons told private investigators that the company systematically discouraged employees from reporting mistreatment and other violations in order to avoid imperiling future state contracts.

The state of Florida has provided the victims of their well protected state employed and privatized goons (both adult and juvenile) ZERO protection from abuse. And as with Green isle Ranch, YSI and CCA the state of Florida is quick to defend, lie and cover up the criminals actions of those who abuse our youth over and over and over.
The only way we can ever protect the youth and vulnerable adults in our society is to order honesty, integrity and 100% transparency to be restored to our government immediately.

Stop the lying and protecting the criminals who have infested our government officers. Tell the truth and let the cards fall where they may. It is a sad day when even many of the ministers of our state and country have been corrupted by the almighty dollar instead of our Almighty God.
Florida taxpayers are spending almost a BILLION Dollars a year on these private vendors like Kids Central, Inc. to manage Children Services. Along with adopting out the babies born to those in their care. This is nothing more than a money making machine for those well connected to the so called law makers.

God Bless the little children for it is obvious the government of the state of Florida never has and never will.
5:01PM MAR 17TH 2014
These MURDERS can be prevented. PRECRIME- It works.
(Links not allowed. So please do a websearch for PRECRIME)

Leonard Henderson, co-founder
American Family Rights
"Until Every Child Comes Home"
life without parole
2:48PM MAR 17TH 2014
It wouldn't cost the taxpayers one extra penny up front to add to these bills that any official including Sheriff's, State Attorney's, Judges, police officers, members of the clergy and all persons who purport to be enforcing the laws of the land while they are bragging these actions are for the good of the children when caught covering up crimes against children for their friends and the friends friends be charged with a felony in the first degree for each separate case where they refuse to enforce the laws on the books against the friends and perverts.

They could call it the failure of an official to perform their lawful duties act! Upon conviction of one of more counts they should be sentenced to life without parole plus one day to make sure they are dead!

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