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State workers failed to protect children despite evidence of abuse, neglect

For years, the state of Florida has failed children who passed through the child welfare system. Failures led to task forces that prompted reforms, but serious problems remain. Some of the major cases:

July 1985: Corey Greer

Four-month-old Corey, one of 12 children living in a Treasure Island foster home licensed for only four, dies after being left alone in a hot room. Gov. Bob Graham creates a Governor's Constituency for Children committee to investigate. It finds high staff turnover rates attributed to low pay and recommends more emphasis on prevention and keeping families together.

July 1989: Bradley McGee

The 2-year-old Lakeland boy is killed when his stepfather plunges him head-first into a toilet because Bradley soiled his pants. In response, the Legislature creates a Florida Study Commission on Child Welfare to review state laws addressing children's needs. It recommends lowering caseworker loads, increasing pay and changing the way child abuse investigations proceed. Based on the report, lawmakers pass the Bradley McGee Act in 1991, which includes funding for 628 new child welfare workers.

May 1995: Lucas Ciambrone

The 7-year-old Bradenton boy is beaten, tortured and starved by his adoptive parents, once again undermining the state's faith in its child protection system. Gov. Lawton Chiles appoints a 10-member Community Review Panel, which makes 44 recommendations for revamping the system.

November 1997

Gov. Chiles creates a Child Abuse Task Force after six child abuse deaths between Sept. 4 and Oct. 28: Beaunca Jones, 2, of Miami; Nia Scott, 2, of Largo; Alexandria Champagne, 21 months, of St. Petersburg; Saydee Alvarado, 8 months, of Palmetto; Walkiri Batista, 3, of Kissimmee; and Jonathan Flam, 2, of Tampa. All six were being supervised by the Department of Children and Families, most because a parent or caregiver had been accused of abuse or neglect.

May 1998

The Child Abuse Task Force calls for improved training for child abuse investigators, standardizing investigative procedures, streamlining the dependency court system and improving the cooperation between child welfare and law enforcement workers. The Legislature appropriates $8 million to pay for the changes.

November 1998: Kayla McKean

The 6-year-old Lake County girl is killed by her father on Thanksgiving after she soils her underwear. The state had allowed her to return home after previous abuse allegations. A grand jury finds that as many as 10 caseworkers were involved in her case, but none saw her more than once. Lawmakers passed the Kayla McKean Act to improve the system.

May 1999: Natalie Gomez

The 2-year-old Kissimmee girl dies after her mother's boyfriend punched her in the stomach. The girl was not removed from that home despite warning signs noted by caseworkers. DCF Secretary Kathleen Kearney appoints a "strike force" to investigate recent child abuse deaths.

April 2002: Rilya Wilson

Gov. Jeb Bush appoints a four-member panel after Rilya's disappearance. DCF is left scrambling to determine if, why and how a DCF employee wrote reports about the 5-year-old indicating that the girl was in foster care when she had disappeared 16 months earlier. The results: "The chief issue is — and always has been — the same: Florida's child welfare system is overburdened, overwhelmed, understaffed and underfunded."

March 2007

Bob Butterworth, newly appointed secretary of DCF, and top aides promise "a new day of openness" for the often-criticized agency. "We will no longer use this agency to hide behind the concept of confidentiality,'' says George Sheldon, who succeeds Butterworth in August 2008.

June 2007: Courtney Clark

The 2-year-old girl was missing for four months from a Lake County foster home before police began looking for her. They find her, still alive, in a house in Wisconsin where a woman had been killed and her son tortured. Butterworth announces the creation of five "child locator specialists" and seeks legislation to require local police to immediately take missing children's reports from DCF.

December 2008: Blake Rupe

The 15-month-old Lake County boy dies of blunt-force trauma at home, where investigators allowed him to stay even though they noted signs of abuse. The case manager and her supervisor, who worked for a contracted agency, are terminated.

December 2008: Diella Ludwig

The 2-month-old child dies of blunt head trauma in Port Richey. A month later, her father is charged with first-degree murder. DCF acknowledges that it missed a number of red flags in the case.

Compiled by Times news researcher Caryn Baird

State workers failed to protect children despite evidence of abuse, neglect 01/28/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 28, 2009 10:20pm]

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