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USA Today Investigation prompts Florida child welfare chief to vow reforms

(The AEGIS Alliance) – Just recently, Chad Poppell, chief of child welfare in Florida has announced that the Florida Department of Children and Families will establish a brand new set of specialized teams. These teams are going to be tasked with investigating possible child abuse allegations that have been made involving foster parents, they will also be reviewing the agency’s decisions in those foster parent cases.

This comes as a response to a USA TODAY investigation which was published last year. This investigation revealed a number of flaws in the system and exposed that DCF had sent some children to live in homes where they ended up being both sexually and physically abused. The series brought to light how the DCF has wrongfully blamed parents in the past, even mothers who have been physically abused by their partners, and then had their children taken away from them possibly in an unjust manner. There are some mothers who admit they are worried that their children might have been abused in foster care. DCF blamed the children’s mothers who were in abusive relationships for putting their kids into foster care and group homes.

“I won’t belabor the point, the quality of the work was poor. We did a bad job,” Poppell stated, and added that a quality assurance team has since analyzed DCF’s choices at every step in the process. “Each one of those (cases) may have a dozen decision points along the way. The overall review indicated in those cases, roughly half the time on all those decisions, we made the wrong one.”

Chad Poppell, Head of Florida’s Department of Children and Families (Tori Lynn Schneider/Tallahassee Democrat)

At least 92 children made allegations of sexual abuse between 2019-2020 which involved foster parents. This is unacceptable and has fueled reform for more oversight now for DCF in Florida.

There have been thousands of allegations made that involve foster parents and children who have been taken from their families. A great deal of those allegations had reportedly been made by credible sources as well, which would mean someone like a physician, teacher, or law enforcement agent. The DCF is looking to do better, and the public demands it. As for those allegations that had been made there are very few that had been verified by the authorities, only 6 of them were verified. There is a review into the agency’s actions when it comes to those cases. Child service authorities in Florida aren’t the only jurisdiction that has faced similar scrutiny when it comes to child welfare and how foster homes or group homes might be operating.

The DCF will plan on now making changes that will end up expanding its Crisis Incident Rapid Response Team and establish a Special Investigation Unit. That team is ultimately going to be working on looking into the agency’s work in all cases involving allegations of child mistreatment and child sexual abuse with foster parents. They want to get to the bottom of it and weed out the potential foster parents that might pose a threat. It is unacceptable for any legitimate allegation to go without investigation because it could mean that one or many children are being harmed as a result. Overlooking potential abusers leaves the community at risk and if it goes on for too long then it fuels a problem that might look similar to this one.

Poppell told lawmakers “there are a “million great things that happen in the system every day,” he noted that the newspaper investigation prompted the department to reassess some of its policies. 

“I think the article highlighted this appropriately, and we need to respond,” he said.

Florida State Senator Lauren Book, a Democrat from Plantation and the committee chair, Congress, and experts are now interested in making changes, which include changes like setting up teams that can review those cases and potentially offer any feedback that might be needed. There will also be a special investigation unit set up that will be working to establish and look into various allegations that have been made of mistreatment against children in any group homes or foster homes.

Experts are going to be expected to give their feedback on whether or not they feel a child should return back home after any allegations have been made. When mistakes get made and allegations get overlooked and aren’t investigated properly it could mean the difference between life or death for a child. With great power to investigate families like this and take children away from their parents comes a great responsibility to ensure that those children aren’t going to end up in further harm, much oversight is needed.

Book wrote Poppell to express she was alarmed that children were subjected to unavoidable harm and abuse, “The USA TODAY investigative series will serve as a blueprint for me to follow in examining these issues,” she wrote.

Lauren Book, Florida State Senator from Plantation.
(Tori Lynn Schneider/Tallahassee Democrat)

“I just want to make it clear — young children when they disclose abuse, they don’t lie,” Book said on Tuesday at a meeting. “These are pieces of information that they cannot make up unless they’ve had to live through or endure (them).”

There is a zero-tolerance policy for children ending up in homes that are going to further abuse them either physically or sexually. One time is too many times and having dozens of allegations made like this signals a clear problem that needs to be investigated further.

Still, there are still thousands of kids who need a foster home and not enough foster parents to offer a healthy environment for them. Current options are overcrowded and foster parents have been accused of various crimes from physical abuse to neglect and worse. Keeping families together should always be a top priority and the DCF is going to aim at doing better so that they can lower the chances of children ending up in potentially abusive homes.

“The goal wasn’t to get more children in care, it was obviously to make sure children were safer,” Poppell said.

“The department officials should be more in tune with what’s happening to kids in the agency’s care,” he said. “DCF shouldn’t be finding out about these things in the newspaper.”

Kyle James Lee – The AEGIS Alliance – This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Kyle James Lee

Majority Owner of The AEGIS Alliance. I studied in college for Media Arts, Game Development. Talents include Writer/Article Writer, Graphic Design, Photoshop, Web Design and Development, Video Production, Social Media, and eCommerce.

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