Gov. Rick Scott signed into law Monday a sweeping overhaul of Florida’s long-troubled child welfare agency, discarding a decade-old policy that favored the rights of parents over those of neglected and abused children — even as hundreds of infants and toddlers died gruesome and preventable deaths.
The measure, approved unanimously by the Florida Legislature in May, contains major changes to virtually every facet of Florida child protection policy, and is designed to stanch what had become an epidemic of deaths, particularly among the very young. The new law was written in response to a series of stories in the Miami Herald, called Innocents Lost, that detailed the deaths of 477 children whose families had been known to the state.
The new law is significant, children’s advocates say, as much for what it says as what it does: Lawmakers said explicitly that state child welfare administrators can no longer place the rights and wishes of parents above the safety of their children. For a decade, the Department of Children & Families had followed a “family preservation” policy that sometimes left small children in danger, especially when their parents fought violently or had untreated drug addictions.
“This is a sea change for Florida,” said Fran Allegra, who oversaw the state’s largest private foster care agency, Our Kids of Miami, until earlier this year. “The law now says the welfare of the child is most important. Somewhere along the line, the rights of children to be safe and protected became less important than parents’ rights to custody of the child.” [Read Full Article]