Fundamental changes necessary to better protect children
The eerie familiarity demands change. And it must be fundamental.
As we begin another legislative session, a shadow has again fallen on the landscape of Florida's child welfare system. Again, we mourn tragic losses of young lives cut short by the actions of
their parents. Again, we ask “why?” Instead, we should ask, “what must change?”
The change must go beyond checkboxes. It must address root causes of issues contributing to preventable tragedies.
In Florida’s complex child welfare system, the state-run Department of Children and Families oversees reports and investigations of child abuse. But ongoing service delivery and
post-investigation care of children and families lies within each community, as community-based-care agencies and local service providers work in tandem to do all they can to protect children, to strengthen and stabilize families.
But, as these tragic deaths too vividly illustrates, sometimes it’s just not enough.
We cannot continue looking at our system in the same way. We cannot operate as two entities, as DCF and community-based-care agencies in competition for resources and staff. We cannot
point fingers during tragedies and compete for credit during successes. We must look at our shared responsibility for Florida's abused and vulnerable children.
This goes beyond recommendations in a report. As a joint system, we must boldly address fundamental issues, from legislative restrictions to funding discrepancies and workforce instability.
It’s time to examine and revise statutes to ensure the protection of parents’ rights does not become a barrier to protecting the lives of their children. Legislative changes must allow child welfare and judicial systems to consider parents’ comprehensive history, including prior terminations of parental rights – voluntary or involuntary – when determining if parents will receive another chance to raise their children.
We must invest adequately in the child protection system at all levels – from investigations to services. We must address the constant turnover in this difficult field. We can start with proper compensation and workload for case managers and protective investigators, with rewarding and recognizing staff for experience and performance excellence.
Further, we can better prepare incoming professionals by developing a robust, university-based program that incentivizes students to pursue rewarding yet challenging careers protecting
We cannot continue focusing on the same issues in the same manner and expect the change children deserve. It’s time for statewide collaboration and cooperation. The time is now, before one more child's life ends in tragedy.
Shelley Katz is Board Chair of the Florida Coalition for Children. She is also Chief Operating Officer of Children's Home Society of Florida.