By this time the allegations of abuse at the Florida Institute of Neurologic Rehabilitation should be well known to anyone reading this blog. If not, read here and here. Bloomberg somehow got the scoop on the locals and reported years of criminal, civil, and regulatory investigations of the place, including deaths, two pending criminal charges, and a log jam of bureaucratic self-declared impotence. DCF, ACHA, and DOH allegedly all threw up their hands for lack of jurisdiction and the allegations of abuse continued. However, the news report somehow conferred jurisdiction, because a week after the Bloomberg piece was published, DCF, ACHA and DOH linked arms and conducted a surprise joint inspection of the facility. The results of that inspection are pending.
This story is relevant to this blog because it is common knowledge that foster kids with traumatic brain injuries have been placed in FINR. It’s also common knowledge that there is a double-standard when it comes to institutional placements: a relative with verified findings of abuse and death of people in their care would likely never get custody of a child.
There’s also an emerging realization that in cases of institutional abuse it is not enough to point to children who were not abused as evidence that the institution is safe. If that were true Sandusky would still be free. In institutions, you have to monitor the personnel, the policies, the training, the culture, and everything else. It is also not enough that the floors are clean and the lights work. The question is whether the facility is a positive and empowering place for the people who are placed there. Surprise inspections cannot take that temperature. Monitors need a presence at the institution, and they need to be rotated frequently so that relationships and familiarity do not overpower their role as watchdogs.
We should, however, be asking ourselves whether FINR is right for our kids at all. Despite FINR’s supposed stated-of-the-art care, it represents what is supposed to be the disfavored treatment of the disabled. Institutionalization. The clear legal and moral mandate is that people who can be integrated into the community should be. You see it in Olmstead claims, the Baker Act, and SIPP law. In the community there are opportunities to grow, to have relationships not based on disability, to experience a full life. Of equal importance, in the community there are more eyes, more people to speak out when things are not right. At FINR, the only thing for miles are staff and trees. Trips to Target are not integration.
I want to hope and believe that none of the abuse alleged on the adult wing of FINR has ever occurred on the children’s wing. Sadly my time in child welfare tells me that is not where assumptions should begin. I’m told by people who had good experiences with FINR that it does a wonderful job with its patients, but those people were families who visited and supported and cared for loved ones–they were their own watchdogs. Foster children do not have that level of support. Moreover, I’ve never been told that what FINR does can’t be recreated in smaller community settings if the funding and desire were there. Instead of chasing allegations, it’s time to step back and ask ourselves what kind of life we want for foster kids with traumatic brain injuries. The nicest hospital in the world is still a hospital. I think it’s time to bring those kids home.
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