DCF on watch as 477 kids die | March 16
Officials must act on child safety
A recent investigation into the deaths of 477 children who were known to be at risk by the Department of Children and Families shockingly revealed the abysmal failure of DCF and its community partners to protect these children.
The reality is that as DCF reduced the number of children in its dangerous, burgeoning out-of-home care system from 50,000 in 2002 to 16,000, it failed with its private partners to take action to protect community children that investigators determined were in harm's way.
Recently, interim DCF Secretary Esther Jacobo has been open and invited collaborative solutions to address these failures, and the Legislature is considering several measures that could create the reforms advocates have been demanding for years to protect both community children and children taken into state care.
Under current law, when state workers investigate reports of abuse they must close their investigations within 60 days, no matter the finding of future risk. Proposed legislation would require lead agencies to monitor safety plans with interventions and services specifically tailored for each child and family beyond the 60-day investigation period if protective investigators determine that there is high future risk to children.
Additionally, the Legislature needs to ensure that children who are placed in state care are also safe from the dangers of overcrowded foster care, including child-on-child sexual abuse, and have permanent families in one year, as state law requires.
Florida must protect both the children in the community and those who must be in state custody. It's not just DCF's and its community partners' job. It's their moral and legal obligation.
Howard Talenfeld, children's rights attorney, Fort Lauderdale
DCF on watch as 477 kids die | March 16
Prevention and screening
I served from 1986 to 1999 as a DCF employee — first as an adoptions counselor, then a protective services case manager, and finally for nine years as a protective services supervisor — and it breaks my heart to see Florida mismanage its child welfare system. Even as top management is replaced periodically to convince the public that better days are coming, there is still not sufficient public outcry to put our money where our mouth is and allocate sufficient funding for those least able to care for themselves, our children.
We need preventive services to reduce child abuse and neglect, and additional services to parents whose behavior puts their children in jeopardy. We need better screening of new case management staff, and both textbook and practical training with the goal that these new case managers will see child welfare as a career, not just as a temporary job.
We need to continue to recruit and train good foster parents and adoptive parents. We need more dedicated assistant state attorneys who ensure the court's involvement protects the children while not overwhelming the parents. And the only way to accomplish all of this is for the public to keep knocking on their legislators' doors for adequate funding.
Would I like Florida to refund part of the cost of my auto tag? Sure, but I believe our government has more valid uses for our tax dollars — our children's lives.
Janice Perelman, Brandon
Shining light | March 14
Few meet his high standard
The death of former Gov. Reubin Askew — who stood for ethics, respect and honesty in government — is a sad loss, especially since there are so few in Florida government who maintain the high standards he set.
The work he did endures, even though much of what he accomplished has been lost over the past 10 years. We don't have the "good old boys" network, but instead a slick salesman in Tallahassee where a campaign contribution and a handshake does the job. Florida has gone back to corruption far worse than before, and transparency with our Tallahassee pay-to-play politicians is a joke.
Lets hope that the new, younger voters coming into the system will be more intelligent in who they choose to run the state and can undo some of the damage done. For a start, maybe we can get leaders who are not already owned by the insurance companies, big developers, large medical companies and big for-profit charter school corporations. Let's take Florida back for the Floridians.
Patricia Houghtalen, New Port Richey
Jackson House still in limbo | March 17
Preserve Tampa's history
Every time I read another story about the continuing decay of the Jackson House, my blood boils. Fines continue to mount while this historical building continues to rot to the point where restoration may not be feasible. Leaders have known for some time that Willie Robinson has neither the means nor the health to undertake saving this old hotel, which housed the greatest jazz musicians of the day.
The building is on the historical registry, and yet our politicians sit. They certainly find money for the things they want to fund. To make matters worse, instead of encouraging others who have tried to buy the hotel by dropping the accrued fines, the city continues to want them paid by the purchaser, taking away money that could have gone toward restoration. This was a deal-breaker for the last group that tried to save the building. It appears the only way to save some of Tampa's historical buildings is to sell them to the Scientologists. This is nothing but a failure of leadership by Tampa's politicians.
Stop worrying about new stadiums and start paying attention to quality of life issues in Tampa. Only then will you have a shot at restoring Tampa to the great city it used to be when I was a kid. You can begin by purchasing and restoring the Jackson House. For once, do something not because you expect to get a lot in return for it; do it because it's the right thing to do.
Vicky Ferraro, Tampa
Bill shuts down public input
House Bill 189 will impact many Florida beach communities by lifting the cities' restrictions on development. The bill, which amends Florida Statute 163.3167, prohibits the initiative and referendum process in regard to any local comprehensive plan amendment or map amendment unless these processes were authorized as of June 1, 2011.
The city of Treasure Island and other beach municipalities are seeking legal counsel to ensure that they are grandfathered. The constitutional question remains whether the rights of other communities that incorporate charter mandates for the initiative and referendum process will be compromised.
Marie Barba, Treasure Island