Florida Lawmakers Grapple With Changing Culture At DCF
Both chambers of the Legislature took up child-welfare reform, hearing from a wide range of experts with research about staff turnover and caseloads.
But one number stood out: 432, the number of Florida children who died of abuse and neglect in 2012, according to Pam Graham, a social work professor at Florida State University.
Graham, who spoke Tuesday to the House Healthy Families Subcommittee, served on the State Child Abuse Death Review Committee. Of the 432 children who died in 2012, she said, 40 percent were already involved with the Department of Children and Families.
"It pains me that if the right people had been helping those families, a lot of the deaths could have been prevented," Graham said.
The number of child deaths usually mentioned in legislative committees is 40, the number that the Casey Family Programs, a policy group, reviewed after a series of child deaths last year.
And that's how many it took to prompt legislative leaders to vow to overhaul the child-welfare system.
"The public is crying out to us to have revolutionary reform," said Sen. Eleanor Sobel, a Hollywood Democrat and chairwoman of the Senate Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee. "We don't want to keep reading about children's deaths. …However, we're going to do it in a pragmatic way, step by step."
Sobel's panel and the House Healthy Families Subcommittee examined such steps as requiring all new child-protective investigators to have social-work degrees and helping the current investigators get such degrees.
Not everyone who spoke to the lawmakers agreed on how to fix the workplace culture at DCF, but virtually all said it had to be done.
"The thing that we keep coming back to is a lack of fraternity," Mike Watkins, chief executive officer of Big Bend Community Based Care, told the Senate panel.