The Florida Department of Children and Families’ mission is to work in partnership with local communities to protect the vulnerable, promote strong and economically self-sufficient families and advance personal and family recovery and resiliency.
But what happens when the department falls behind in those principle duties posted on its website? If the department made to protect children is struggling, when the evidence showing these youths are in danger is right in front of them, who can they count on?
In 2020, 106,515 reports were made to the department on domestic violence in Florida. It’s no secret that case workers in the state are inundated with alarming reports and sometimes the cases aren’t looked at. The number of child deaths with a case that had been previously reported to the agency is a worrying figure.
In 2021, Florida’s DCF reported 447 child fatalities. From that total, 176 were involved in a case that DCF had some involvement with across a period of five years. The report also shows that in 118 of the fatalities, DCF was involved directly with the child. And 23 of them required Critical Incident Rapid Response Team, a unit that launches immediate multi-agency investigation with regard to a specific child’s death or other serious incidents.
Jordan Belliveau was only two years old in 2018 when he lost his life at the hands of his mother, Charisse Stinson. The family had many encounters with DCF, including various domestic violence incidents between Stinson and her boyfriend.
The department had admitted that they did not take the necessary steps to ensure Jordan’s safety and procedures and policies were not followed. Reports also show that the family’s case worker was not making the required weekly visits.
On Nov. 6, 2020, 22-month-old Rashid Bryant died. According to the Miami-Dade medical examiner, Bryant died due to complications of acute and chronic blunt force injuries caused by his parents. The young boy and his 9 other siblings were known to DCF. Records show that there were 16 reports made to DCF. These reports ranged from physical abuse, parental drug and domestic violence, among others.
These are only two of many tragedies that may have been prevented had the necessary steps and procedures been taken.
But help may be on the way. DCF’s practices, personnel and overall efficiency are on the radar of Gov. Ron DeSantis, especially as the state transitions into new laws. In discussing the Roe v. Wade bill last month, DeSantis took steps to promote DCF’s options for families.
“Florida will continue to defend its recently enacted pro-life reforms against state court challenges,” he said. “[It] will work to expand pro-life protections and will stand for life by promoting adoption, foster care and child welfare.”
Also last month, DeSantis approved funding for what his office termed “child and family well-being” as a means for further support.
“Investments in our children are investments in our future,” DeSantis said at the time. “Children should have every opportunity to reach their full potential, and I am proud to approve a budget that will further Florida as a state where families can thrive together, and kids can grow up safe and happy.”
Results may not be immediate, of course, but DCF knows — at the very least — it has additional resources to help right its course.
“The governor and the legislature continue to make families a priority in Florida,” DCF secretary Shevaun Harris said. “This funding will allow us to continue building out the vision to better integrate programs and holistically serve families. We are grateful for the opportunity.”