Monday, March 28, 2011

Déjà vu over child deaths in Florida

The 1990s saw child death task forces at the rate of one every two years. In May 1995, it was Lucas Ciambrone, whose Bradenton adoptive parents beat, starved and tortured him. He died with cracked ribs, more than 200 bruises and weighed just 27 pounds.

The Ciambrone panel issued 44 recommendations, including that lawmakers stop passing child welfare laws without the money to pay for them. Four months later, legislators cut 33 child abuse investigators from their budget.

The Community Review Panel report that followed Lucas’ death barely had time to gather dust when Florida experienced one of the worst periods in its child-welfare history. In September and October 1997, six children with extensive DCF histories were killed: Beaunca Jones, 2; Nia Scott, 2; Alexandria Champagne, 21 months; Saydee Alvarado, 8 months; Walkiria Batista, 3, and Jonathan Flam, 2.

A task force followed, and then-DCF Secretary Edward Feaver developed new protocols for measuring risk to children.

Then came Thanksgiving, 1998. Richard Adams in Clermont reported his 6-year-old daughter missing.

“The Grand Jury understands that is impossible to legislate common sense, or to regulate an employee to care. Yet the Grand Jury is concerned about the reluctance of various individuals to enthusiastically embrace their duties.’’

A grand jury convened and proposed sweeping changes to how Florida responded to reports of child abuse: Require the state’s abuse hot line to accept all reports, “every complaint, no matter how inconsequential it may appear over the telephone.’’ Never minimize or ignore the concerns of educators. Require the Department of Health’s Child Protection Team to evaluate all allegations of physical injury. Allow the same investigator to look into all successive abuse allegations so patterns can be observed. Never interview abused children in front of their suspected abusers.

The Kayla McKean Act became law on July 1, 1999

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