TALLAHASSEE – It is the job of the Department of Children and Families to help protect some of Florida’s most vulnerable people — abused children who live with dysfunctional families in sometimes appalling conditions.
It’s an incredibly difficult and often thankless task.
Still, there is only one way that Floridians can gauge how well DCF is doing its job, and that is to be able to examine both the successes and failures of the agency.
DCF now seems to be going in the right direction — toward the necessary openness — but it hasn’t necessarily gone easily.
A window to the failures in DCF was opened by the Miami Herald with its “Innocents Lost” series, which looked at the deaths of 477 children over a span of six years. But DCF at times appeared to be working to slam that window shut, even as the Legislature wrestled with a major reform bill in the just completed session.
During its investigation, the Herald had to file three lawsuits to get information. After that, DCF started heavily redacting reports, removing most details of children’s deaths.
In the Senate, an amendment to the reform bill, offered by DCF staff, would have made a major dent in transparency — including removing a requirement that DCF list on its website whether victims were under 5 years old at the time of their death.
So here’s the good news: The reform bill (SB 1666) passed unanimously in the House and the Senate. And DCF’s new interim secretary has promised greater transparency.
Only hours after being named, Mike Carroll this week created a new position to oversee the reporting of child deaths, and he told his deputy to appoint an administrator to help make information about child deaths more easily accessible.
Coincidentally, last week Gov. Rick Scott was involved in a dispute with the federal Department of Veterans Affairs, seeking records on the injuries and deaths of veterans in the Florida system.
“There should be complete transparency”, Gov. Scott said. “If you’re not going to talk about it, if you’re not going to share the information, how are we going to know how they’re going to solve it?”
Well put. For the VA, for DCF and for any government agency.