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Bush: Abuse cases need local solution

Florida's system of investigating child abuse needs to be replaced with a "community care" model, Miami businessman and Republican gubernatorial hopeful Jeb Bush said Friday.

Bush, who barely lost the 1994 gubernatorial race, told reporters he's not exploiting the deaths of six children since September because he has not formally announced as a candidate for governor _ yet.

"I'm going to be a candidate for governor, so I've been very careful not to make this about politics," Bush said, later saying: "I'm not a candidate yet."

Flanked by lawmakers and child advocates, Bush said Florida's children can't wait for a solution figured out by a task force that Gov. Lawton Chiles appointed Wednesday after the latest death.

Bush said he has been quietly traveling the state for the last six months to talk about how to protect children from abuse and neglect _ "the most pressing problem in Florida."

He said the state should turn the current crisis into an opportunity to fix a state system that's in "complete and total breakdown."

Under Bush's community-care plan, abuse investigations would be localized with law enforcement, and counties would be in charge of foster care and adoptions.

Another provision is to expand a program known as Healthy Families that is used in Pinellas County. Families that agree to participate are screened for risk factors right after their babies are born and then provided services in their home to prevent abuse.

Other parts of the plan advocate calling on relatives, friends, neighbors and clergy to help troubled families and streamlining the court system.