A team of reporters from The Miami Herald has been investigating how a decade-long shift toward “family preservation” to cut the number of abused and neglected children in state custody, coupled with a cut in services like drug and alcohol rehabilitation, has led to a corresponding rise in the number of dead children.
The Herald pressed for public records on each and every child death in Florida since 2008, and found 477 of them as of November, as part of its important “Innocents Lost” series. In March, the reporters went back to update their findings statewide. They discovered 145 more. They also found something odd out of the state’s West Palm Beach office, a regional office that had previously documented more child deaths than any other statewide. Between November and March 31, the Herald found the West Palm Beach office had filed zero child death incident reports.
|Antwan Hope died under state protection.|
Unfortunately, it wasn’t for a lack of child deaths. There had been 30 in the region, 15 from Palm Beach County. DCF’s Southeast Regional office — which covers Palm Beach, Broward, Martin, St. Lucie and Okeechobee counties — had suspended the filing of the incident reports. Meanwhile, the deaths continued. Drownings. Sleeping suffocations. Trauma.
A Riviera Beach newborn was found smothered to death during the night in December, apparently by her sleeping mother. Soon after, the Herald found, an administrator in West Palm Beach sent this email to her staff:
“Please do not file this in the system. No incident reports right now on death cases. … Will advise why later.”
DCF’s new interim Secretary Mike Carroll, promised to look into the missing reports, and his deputy secretary was dispatched to West Palm Beach earlier this month to investigate. Yet when the Herald asked for documents on that administrative inquiry, even handwritten notes, the agency said no public records had been created.
Carroll, to his credit, put his findings on the record in a June 6 official letter to the West Palm Beach office director, Dennis Miles. He applauded Miles for showing the “courage and leadership” to admit a mistake and take responsibility, and suspended him for two days. He said it was clear that no records had been destroyed, but found operating procedures were not followed. Incident reports and analysis are to be entered into the state’s system within one day.
|Nubia Barhona, who died while under state protection.|
Carroll added this finding: “I have determined that this was not in an effort to shield information from anyone,” but rather an attempt to address data security problems.
Miles goes further. He says he stopped the filing of the incident reports because they were being broadcast, unredacted, to a broad list of current and former DCF personnel — a serious security and privacy breach, since they contained some private medical and active criminal investigation records. Miles said he didn’t want to send them until the state solved its data security problem. That’s been fixed, he said.
Do you think this second DCF scandal evokes the secret Veterans Administration waiting lists that may have been created in Phoenix and elsewhere to hide how badly stretched the VA was in serving veterans in need of appointments? Or do you accept the assertiong that this was about data security, not secrecy?