Wednesday, December 13, 2017
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: Tax cuts arenít worth harm to Tampa Bay

Editorial: Tax cuts arenít worth harm to Tampa Bay

As congressional negotiators hammer out the details on an enormous, unnecessary tax cut, the potential negative impact on Tampa Bay and Florida is becoming clearer. The harmful consequences stretch far beyond adding more than $1.4 trillion to the fed...
Published: 12/12/17

Another voice: Privacy in the internet age

How much information about you is on your cellphone? Likely the most intimate details of your life: photographs, internet searches, text and email conversations with friends and colleagues. And though you might not know it, your phone is constantly c...
Published: 12/10/17
Updated: 12/11/17
Editorial: Grand jury could force reforms of juvenile justice system

Editorial: Grand jury could force reforms of juvenile justice system

Confronted with documentation of sanctioned brutality and sexual abuse in Floridaís juvenile detention centers, the reaction from Gov. Rick Scottís administration was defensive and obtuse. So itís welcome news that Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine...
Published: 12/08/17
Updated: 12/11/17

Editorial: U.S. House sides with NRA over stateís rights on concealed weapons permits

With the horror of the mass shootings at a Las Vegas country music concert and a small Texas church still fresh, the U.S. House finally has taken action on guns. But the bill it passed last week wonít make Americans safer from gun violence. It is an ...
Published: 12/07/17
Editorial: Hillsborough cannot afford pay raises for teachers

Editorial: Hillsborough cannot afford pay raises for teachers

There is no satisfaction for anyone in the standoff over pay raises between the Hillsborough County School District and its teachers. Most teachers across the nation already are underpaid, but this district simply cannot afford the raises teachers ex...
Published: 12/07/17
Editorial: Impact of Water Street project extends beyond buildings

Editorial: Impact of Water Street project extends beyond buildings

With a buildout of $3 billion encompassing entire city blocks, itís obvious that Jeff Vinikís plans will change the look and feel of downtown Tampa. But the Tampa Bay Lightning owner unveiled a broader vision last week that reflects how far the impac...
Published: 12/06/17
Updated: 12/08/17
Editorial: Make texting while driving a primary offense

Editorial: Make texting while driving a primary offense

It is dangerous and illegal to text while driving in Florida, and police should be able to pull over and ticket those lawbreakers without witnessing another violation first. House Speaker Richard Corcoran has lent his powerful voice to legislation th...
Published: 12/06/17
Updated: 12/07/17

Editorial: Outsourcing common sense on St. Petersburg Pier naming rights

St. Petersburg officials predict that selling the naming rights to parts of the new Pier could generate $100,000 in annual revenue. But first the city wants to pay a consultant to tell it how and to whom to sell the rights. Why do city officials need...
Published: 12/06/17
Updated: 12/07/17

Another voice: Trumpís risky move

President Donald Trumpís decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israelís capital has a certain amount of common sense on its side. As a practical matter, West Jerusalem has been the seat of Israeli government since 1949, and no conceivable formula for Pa...
Published: 12/06/17
Updated: 12/07/17
Editorial: Tampaís MOSI reinvents itself

Editorial: Tampaís MOSI reinvents itself

A tactical retreat and regrouping seems to be paying off for Hillsborough Countyís Museum of Science and Industry. After paring back its operations, the museum posted a small profit over the past year, enabling the attraction to keep its doors open a...
Published: 12/05/17
Updated: 12/07/17