Friday, December 15, 2017
Editorials

Editorial: Heed the warning signs of child abuse

Reporting child abuse is the responsibility of anyone who sees or suspects it. But a recent Tampa case in which parents were arrested for starving and abusing their children illustrates the difficulty of discovering abuse when a family isolates itself. The tragedy indicates failure on a broad level where a system of checks and balances, from government agencies to neighbors, all fell short. All Floridians need to learn from this.

By outward appearances, Jamie Marie Hicks and her family appeared relatively normal. Neighbors described an attentive, friendly parent who homeschooled her children but refused to let them beyond the yard's metal gate. Neighbors assumed she was just overprotective. But inside the house, the children lived in terror. Police say Hicks beat and choked them, held their heads under water and starved them. When she did feed them, their fare was often spoiled. If they vomited, she made them eat it.

The abuse was uncovered only after two of the boys escaped. Once at Hicks' house, authorities discovered eight children ranging from a 2-year-old girl to emaciated 16-year-old twin boys, who each weighed less than 95 pounds. Police arrested Hicks and Vernon C. Lovell, the stepfather and father of the children.

It would be easy to cast what happened in this home as a bizarre, isolated incident. But the potential for this kind of abuse to flourish is great. Nearly 76,000 students a year are homeschooled in Florida. Thousands of parents homeschool with great success, but when children are governed by abusers, the chance for intervention can shrink. Under current law, parents must register with the school district, maintain records and have their children sit for annual evaluations — which the parents can conduct themselves. The Department of Education should re-evaluate its homeschooling policy and consider requiring parents to present the children for some kind of regular physical check, providing another set of eyes that could spot signs of abuse.

But the state also failed Hicks' children. The Department of Children and Families previously investigated the family but closed the case — despite police saying that Hicks had a prior child neglect charge in Utah and lost parental rights for three children there. DCF says it is bound by law from giving any details about the investigation, making it hard to ascertain what other warning signs, if any, were overlooked. But this case is one more the agency needs to thoroughly review. It comes on the heels of a Miami Herald investigation that found 477 children who had contact with DCF died of abuse or neglect in the past six years.

Floridians also need to commit individually to protecting children, and child abuse advocates note April as Child Abuse Prevention Month. State law empowers anyone to report suspected abuse, and it can be done anonymously. Potential warning signs include repeated bruising, failure to thrive and malnourishment. In parents and caregivers, warning signs include drug or alcohol abuse, mental illness, young mothers, the presence of a paramour or multiple children in the household.

Not all suspicions of abuse pan out. But protecting children's safety is worth the risk of triggering a query and being wrong. Doing nothing while a child suffers is a far greater tragedy.

Comments
Editorial: Rubio should make good his threat to oppose tax cuts without changes

Editorial: Rubio should make good his threat to oppose tax cuts without changes

For once, it would be nice to see Sen. Marco Rubio stand up as the independent leader he aspires to become. For once, the Florida Republican should hold his position rather than bow to pragmatic politics. Rubio can stick with his threat Thursday to v...
Published: 12/14/17

Another voice: A shameful anniversary

Josephine "Joey" Gay should have celebrated her 12th birthday this week. She should have been surrounded by friends and family in a place festooned with purple, her favorite color.Chase Kowalski should have been working toward a Boy Scout merit badge...
Published: 12/13/17
Updated: 12/14/17
Editorial: Congress should block efforts to expand offshore drilling

Editorial: Congress should block efforts to expand offshore drilling

Timing is everything, and Sen. Bill Nelson seized the right moment this week to call on his colleagues to pass legislation he filed earlier this year that would block the Trump administration from opening additional areas to offshore drilling. With t...
Published: 12/13/17

Another voice: Alabama picks an honorable man

THANK YOU, Alabama.In Tuesday’s special election, the state by a narrow margin chose to spare the nation the indignity of seating an accused child molester in the U.S. Senate. Though the stain of electing Republican Roy Moore would have sullied Alaba...
Published: 12/12/17
Updated: 12/13/17
Editorial: Tax cuts aren’t worth harm to Tampa Bay

Editorial: Tax cuts aren’t 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 Florida’s juvenile detention centers, the reaction from Gov. Rick Scott’s administration was defensive and obtuse. So it’s welcome news that Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine...
Published: 12/08/17
Updated: 12/11/17

Editorial: U.S. House sides with NRA over state’s 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 won’t 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, it’s obvious that Jeff Vinik’s 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