Saturday, January 20, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: Saving a child is more important than preserving a family

Life was neither long nor joyous for William Hendrickson IV. In the eight months he was given, his mother was jailed after a domestic violence call, the Department of Children and Families received multiple calls concerning his welfare, both parents failed drug tests and 911 was called 14 times from his home. The day before he died in his father's sweltering bedroom in a Largo mobile home, a social worker visited, a police officer showed up and a crisis hotline was called. The death of William Hendrickson IV was not just a tragedy, but a fundamental failure by the state of Florida to protect him.

This is not pointing an accusatory finger at anyone other than the person largely responsible, and that appears to be the child's father. Instead, this is a plea for the appropriate authorities to recognize that Florida's system for saving at-risk children needs to be streamlined, better funded and err more often on the side of caution.

This baby's horrific outcome, despite the many red flags, was not unique. An 11-month-old died in Palm Beach earlier this year after caseworkers placed him with a woman with 11 abuse allegations whom they mistakenly thought was a relative. A woman in Miami who had a disabled son removed from her care after she viciously beat him was allowed to keep twin siblings and later admitted throwing the body of one of them into a McDonald's dumpster. A Bradenton child once in protective custody had seven broken ribs, a skull fracture and other injuries when he died in November after being reunited with his mother and stepfather.

These are among the sickening examples of the more than 500 cases of children who have died while on DCF's radar since 2008, based on a Miami Herald investigation. Clearly, mistakes by case workers have contributed to some of these tragedies. But Florida also has a systemic problem that must be confronted.

Earlier this year, the federal Children and Family Services Review was critical of the funding levels for child services in Florida. There is tremendous turnover among DCF employees on the front lines, and that leads to too many inexperienced workers and case loads far too heavy to manage. And all of that can be traced back to the meager resources provided.

The state also has vacillated over the years between quickly removing children from potentially dangerous homes and striving to keep families together, depending on which solution seems more politically palatable at the time. This is not a strategy that should be in dispute. While it is preferable to keep families intact, that decision must be made on a case-by-case basis and not be influenced by some predetermined policy dictated by state legislators.

William Hendrickson IV should be alive today. There should be scrapbook photos waiting to be taken of him with his first birthday cake smeared on his face. From the number of calls and visits to that home, it should have been abundantly clear that the child's health and welfare were at risk. While courts may ultimately have to make the call in some of these cases, police and social workers on the scene should have the ability to operate under this simple mandate: If that was my child, what would I do?

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Editorial: Criminal charges should finally wake up FSU fraternities to hazing’s dangers

Editorial: Criminal charges should finally wake up FSU fraternities to hazing’s dangers

The death last fall of a 20-year-old Florida State University fraternity pledge revealed pervasive dangerous behavior within the school’s Greek system. Andrew Coffey, a Pi Kappa Phi pledge, died from alcohol poisoning after an off-campus party, and a...
Published: 01/19/18

Editorial: Confronting racial distrust in St. Petersburg, one conversation at a time

The St. Petersburg Police Department’s heavy presence in Midtown on Martin Luther King Jr. Day and the community animosity it stirred have raised a familiar, troubling question: Can St. Petersburg’s racial divisions ever be reconciled?That big ideal ...
Published: 01/19/18
William March: Tampa Bay Democrats line up for state legislative races

William March: Tampa Bay Democrats line up for state legislative races

A surge of Democrats seeking local legislative offices and hoping for a "blue wave" in the 2018 election continued last week, led by Bob Buesing filing to run again versus state Sen. Dana Young, R-Tampa.In addition:• Heather Kenyon Stahl of Tampa has...
Published: 01/19/18
Editorial: Saying ‘thank you’ helps Tampa police build needed trust

Editorial: Saying ‘thank you’ helps Tampa police build needed trust

The smiles, applause and at least one hug belied the grim impetus for a gathering last week at a neighborhood center in Tampa — the Seminole Heights killings.The Tampa Police Department held a ceremony to thank those who helped in the investigation t...
Published: 01/19/18

Editorial: State’s warning shot should get attention of Hillsborough schools

The state Board of Education hopefully sent the message this week with its warning shot about the slow pace of the turnaround at Hillsborough County’s low-performing schools.The board criticized the school system for failing to replace administrators...
Published: 01/18/18
Updated: 01/19/18
Editorial: More talk, answers needed on future of USF St. Petersburg

Editorial: More talk, answers needed on future of USF St. Petersburg

The Florida Legislature’s abrupt move to strip the University of South Florida St. Petersburg of its hard-earned separate accreditation and transform it back into a satellite of the major research university lacks detail and an appreciation for histo...
Published: 01/18/18

Another voice: Self-dealing by nursing home owners threatens patient care

The outsourcing of logistical support services, which became commonplace in the U.S. military in the 1990s and later was adopted by state prison systems, has now come to dominate the nursing home industry. And while nursing homes, unlike the military...
Published: 01/17/18
Editorial: Making illegal sewage discharges legal is wrong answer

Editorial: Making illegal sewage discharges legal is wrong answer

Three years into a crisis with its sewer system, St. Petersburg has a dandy new idea for dealing with the environmental fallout of dumping dirty water into the aquifer. Instead of committing to banning the outlawed practice, a consultant suggested th...
Published: 01/16/18
Updated: 01/17/18
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
Updated: 01/17/18
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