Wednesday, January 17, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: Another child's death, another cry for help

The Riverview foster mother charged in the death of a 17-month-old wasn't the first one to fail the toddler. Case records show that the boy, who had complex health and developmental problems, was handed to an inexperienced foster mother instead of medically trained caregivers and that his repeated medical emergencies did not trigger intervention by child welfare workers. Aedyn Agminalis' death is the inescapable outcome when the system charged with looking out for Florida's most vulnerable kids is chronically overburdened and underfunded.

Aedyn was taken from his parents after investigators determined they often left him alone in a filthy bedroom. Latamara Stackhouse Flythe, who took him in September, seemed in many ways an ideal foster mother. College-educated with a $70,000 income, she lived in a nice Riverview neighborhood with her two teenage children. Her job: marketing manager for an agency that recruits foster parents. But Flythe had only been licensed since June, and in the five months Aedyn lived with her she took him to the hospital three times. The Department of Children and Families, which investigated Aedyn's death, said that level of medical attention meant he should have been considered for placement with a medical foster family. Worse, his hospital visits were logged but not recorded in a way that alerted caseworkers that a child was having repeated medical incidents, an inexplicable lapse. Eckerd Kids, the agency that runs Hillsborough County's child welfare system, says it has since changed its system to raise those flags.

Aedyn was rushed to the hospital on Dec. 7, minutes after a caseworker left Flythe's house. Flythe said she was changing his diaper when his body went limp. Doctors found that he was suffering from hemorrhaging in his brain and spinal cord, likely the result of blunt force trauma. The toddler was resuscitated but had no brain activity and was removed from life support days later.

Flythe, charged with first-degree murder and aggravated child abuse, will be appropriately punished if convicted. But the system also must be accountable to taxpayers and Florida's abused and neglected kids. A federal report released in January found the state is lagging in meeting the educational, physical and behavioral needs of children in the foster care system. In more than half of 80 cases reviewed, child welfare workers removed children from homes without providing appropriate services, failed to make concerted efforts to deliver care or did not monitor safety plans or engage families in safety services. It cited an array of systemic problems, such as gaps in services, long waiting lists and a failure to tailor aid to a culturally diverse population. Many of those problems were raised by the same federal agency eight years ago.

Funding is a key issue. The nonpartisan Florida TaxWatch recently said that the state should be investing millions more in child welfare services. Meanwhile, more kids are entering the system, further stressing caseworkers, facilities and foster parents. More money could add staff, reduce turnover, ease caseloads, provide better training and improve services for families whose needs are complex and ingrained. The head of the Florida Coalition for Children is asking for a $49 million increase in state funding — still not enough to adequately fund the system but a boost big enough to make a difference.

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Editorial: Tighten substitute teacher rules in Hillsborough

Editorial: Tighten substitute teacher rules in Hillsborough

A substitute teacher at a Plant City elementary school berated a class of fourth graders — and then the school principal. Another compared a student to a stripper. Others were caught napping, hitting children, making sexual remarks, giving students b...
Published: 01/16/18
Editorial: Balancing the playing field for workers’ compensation

Editorial: Balancing the playing field for workers’ compensation

For the longest time, injured workers in Florida were basically at the mercy of the whims of employers to treat them fairly. A 2003 law aimed at reducing the cost of workers’ compensation coverage for businesses had the desired impact, but it also di...
Published: 01/16/18

Another voice: Why just Florida?

Cynicism has always been a part of politics, but rarely are politicians so brazen and self-serving as President Donald Trump and his interior secretary, Ryan Zinke, have been over the past week. First they announced a new offshore drilling plan that ...
Published: 01/16/18
Editorial: King’s legacy still relevant in digital age

Editorial: King’s legacy still relevant in digital age

Today’s holiday honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. couldn’t be more timely. At a moment when the nation’s civic dialogue is choking on personal and political division, it is hard to remember an earlier time when role models were role m...
Published: 01/15/18

Another voice: 38 minutes of fear in Hawaii

In 1938, Orson Welles panicked the nation with a false alarm about a Martian invasion in the radio broadcast The War of the Worlds. That was farfetched, of course. But what happened on Saturday, sadly, was not so hard to imagine — or believe.Authorit...
Published: 01/14/18
Updated: 01/16/18
Editorial: Florida’s chance to make it easier to restore civil rights

Editorial: Florida’s chance to make it easier to restore civil rights

As it has for decades, Florida stubbornly clings to an inhumane, inefficient and indefensible system of justice that permanently sentences more than 1.5 million residents to second-class citizenship. This state automatically revokes the right to vote...
Published: 01/13/18
Editorial: Speak out against Trump’s vulgar remarks

Editorial: Speak out against Trump’s vulgar remarks

President Donald Trump’s vulgar outbursts during a White House meeting on immigration are racist and indefensible no matter how he parses them. They are not presidential, they undermine U.S. foreign relations and they do not reflect America’s values....
Published: 01/12/18

Editorial: Pinellas commission stands up for accountability

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Published: 01/11/18
Updated: 01/12/18

Editorial: Progress on Tampa Bay graduation rates

Tampa Bay’s four school districts all reached a significant milestone last school year: achieving graduation rates over 80 percent. It’s believed to be the first time Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco and Hernando counties all surpassed that threshold, a...
Published: 01/11/18
Updated: 01/12/18

Take deal; build wall

President Donald Trump says he is optimistic a deal can be struck to shield "Dreamers," the young undocumented immigrants whose lives he put in jeopardy by stripping them of work permits and deportation protection, beginning March 5. His price, and t...
Published: 01/10/18
Updated: 01/11/18