Sunday, April 22, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: A better strategy for protecting Florida's children

Florida's child welfare laws should seek to protect and enhance children's lives rather than hold families together at all costs. Gov. Rick Scott signed sweeping changes into the state's child protection policies into law last month, adopting measures that address issues ranging from publicizing child deaths to creating a more skilled workforce. Notably, the law contains provisions that abandon a decade-old policy of maintaining dysfunctional families at the expense of children. Too often, the Department of Children and Families left kids in unsafe situations and gave parents too many chances. This welcome reversal of a failed policy empowers caseworkers and puts child safety above family preservation.

The latest problems at DCF came to light this spring after the Miami Herald published "Innocents Lost," a series that detailed the preventable deaths of 477 children with whom the agency had some contact since 2008. Many of the children died while with parents, relatives or other adults with a documented history of abuse or neglect. Often, DCF knew the children were in dangerous situations and set up safety plans for parents that allowed them to retain custody of their children with little more than a signature and a promise to do better. If parents violated or abandoned the plans, DCF had little recourse. And children paid the price.

Under the new law, compliance with safety plans will play a large role in determining if a child is allowed to remain in the familial home. If investigators determine a child is in danger, they must institute a safety plan that is specific, feasible and sustainable. Separate safety plans also now extend to people such as paramours who commit acts of domestic violence and threaten a child's safety. If any party subject to a safety plan fails to comply, DCF now is empowered to take the child. The law also provides for the possibility of financial support to nonrelatives and other caregivers who take in children who have been removed from their parents.

It is too late for the 477 children who died after coming in contact with DCF. But their deaths pushed lawmakers toward much-needed reform. Florida's strengthened child welfare laws change the way DCF will approach the job going forward. But there is still much to be done. A grand jury report released last month commended DCF for making progress on significant child welfare issues but said the agency must improve in several areas, including lowering case loads for child protection investigators and redefining neglect so that preventable child deaths are not undercounted.

The governor and the Legislature have put into place the kinds of commonsense strategies that were long lacking in Florida's child protection policies. With new tools in hand, DCF should fully utilize its expanded powers to hold parents accountable and protect children's right to live in safe homes regardless of familial relationship.

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Editorial: Pruitt sets new low for ethics at EPA

Editorial: Pruitt sets new low for ethics at EPA

Not too many people took then-candidate Donald Trump seriously when he famously campaigned to "drain the swamp" as president. But that shouldn’t give this administration a free pass to excuse the behavior of Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the Env...
Published: 04/22/18
Editorial: Allegiant Air still has safety issues

Editorial: Allegiant Air still has safety issues

Allegiant Air’s safety record remains troubling, and the Federal Aviation Administration’s reluctance to talk about it is no more encouraging. Those are the key takeaways from a 60 Minutes report on the low-cost carrier’s high rate of mid-flight brea...
Published: 04/21/18

Editorial: Women’s work undervalued in bay area

Even a strong economy and low unemployment cannot overcome the persistent pay gap affecting full-time working women in Florida. A new report shows women in Florida earned 12.5 percent less on average than their male counterparts, and the disparities ...
Published: 04/21/18
Editorial: New Cuba president is chance for new start

Editorial: New Cuba president is chance for new start

For all the symbolism, Raul Castro’s handoff of the Cuban presidency this week amounts to less than meets the eye even if his handpicked successor, the Communist Party functionary Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez, is the first person not named Castro to le...
Published: 04/20/18

Editorial: A missed chance for open primary elections

The Florida Constitution Revision Commission did a lot of things wrong this week by combining unrelated or unpalatable provisions into single amendments that will appear on the November ballot. It also wasted an opportunity to do one thing right. The...
Published: 04/20/18
Editorial: When they visit Nature’s Classroom, kids are right where they belong

Editorial: When they visit Nature’s Classroom, kids are right where they belong

The Hillsborough school district planted a fruitful seed with the opening of Nature’s Classroom five decades ago on the cypress-lined banks of the Hillsborough River northeast of Tampa. • The lessons taught there to some 17,000 sixth graders each yea...
Published: 04/20/18

Editorial: Equality pays off on Southwest Flight 1380

The passengers of Southwest Flight 1380 can be thankful that, 33 years ago, the U.S. Navy took the lead on equal opportunity.Capt. Tammie Jo Shults was piloting the flight from New York to Dallas on Tuesday when an engine exploded, blowing out a wind...
Published: 04/19/18
Updated: 04/20/18
Editorial: Why single-member districts would be bad for Hillsborough commission

Editorial: Why single-member districts would be bad for Hillsborough commission

Anyone looking to make Hillsborough County government bigger, costlier, more dysfunctional and less of a regional force should love the idea that Commissioner Sandy Murman rolled out this week. She proposes enlarging the seven-member board to nine, e...
Published: 04/19/18
Updated: 04/20/18
Editorial: Improving foster care in Hillsborough

Editorial: Improving foster care in Hillsborough

A new foster care provider in Hillsborough County is poised to take over operations in May, only months after its predecessor was fired for what was alleged to be a pattern of failing to supervise at-risk children in its care. Many of the case manage...
Published: 04/18/18

Another voice: Back to postal reform

President Donald Trump is angry at Amazon for, in his tweeted words, "costing the United States Post Office massive amounts of money for being their Delivery Boy." Yet in more recent days, Trump has at least channeled his feelings in what could prove...
Published: 04/17/18
Updated: 04/18/18