DCF Responds to HB 803 Critique

I recently wrote a post, in truest yellow journalism fashion, asking the Limbaughian question of whether HB 803 would make another child death in Florida more or less likely. I make no apology for the tactic–I’m competing for screen time with blogs about cats wearing things on their heads, and the content of the post had more than a shred of substance. It’s a fight for eyeballs, and that post received this blog’s highest traffic to date. I read that optimistically: people do care about how we treat families and children. People do want to see child welfare constantly improving and they want to hear how that’s possible.

The Department, I’m happy to say, ignored my snark and instead responded to my critiques. They originally intended to reply in a comment, but I thought their analysis deserved more than that. I’ve therefore posted it in full and unedited below. After reading the response over a few times, I think some of their technical points are well taken. I take exception to two main points below.

First, by saying that dependencies have underlying socio-economic factors I am not making the claim that DCF intentionally removes children because of poverty. The occurrence of over-representation in the child welfare system is well documented. The occurrence of over-representation in the penal system is equally well documented. When you modify a TPR ground to increase the state’s ability to TPR parents for incarceration you are hitting right at the intersection of those two very racially and socio-economically charged systems. This should cause significant pause and consideration before using these incarceration grounds at all. At the policy level, I would also like to see the Department doing more to encourage diversion programs for parents and better integration between the penal and child welfare system. This would be consistent with their goal to move child protective efforts to the front end.

Second, the Department ignored a key piece of my hypothetical when rebutting whether we want an alleged perpetrator to be able to decide whether a CPI can forward an allegedly false report on to law enforcement.  I agree that a private person usually has discretion whether to call the police when they are a crime victim, but that is not universally true.  I also agree that the person subjected to a false report is the victim in that scenario. But that was not my hypothetical. My hypothetical dealt specifically with the situations where the CPI was wrong and the person under investigation was indeed a child abuser. In those situations, I would want some redundancy built in by automatically referring the case to the police for further investigation. Because we can’t know how many cases fall into this category, I would err on the side of redundancy in all cases. I don’t believe the numbers of suspected false reports were so high statewide that this would be overly burdensome on the CPIs or the police. In counties where the CPIs are the police, this would add nothing at all to the process.

On whole, the core of our differences seems to rest at the question of how much discretion is optimal at various crucial points of the child welfare system: CPIs, case managers, and judges. Whole criminal law classes get taught on the question and whole philosophies of policy and governance exist to implement people’s views on the subject of discretion. So I don’t pretend that one blog post would change any hearts or minds.

I note one sentence in the Department’s response, and read it as a sigh:

As is the case presently, however, the public will know when calls are not investigated properly as a result of oversight by the media, GAL, citizen review panels, child advocates, foster parents, the Legislature, the courts, plaintiff’s attorneys and others who scrutinize the work of the Department and its CPI’s on a daily basis.

Add bloggers, I suppose.

Here is the response. The original post is in black; the Department’s responses are in blue. To my very smart lurkers: what do you think?

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