Child protection task force meets in Tampa

08/03/07 Seán Kinane
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One month ago, a toddler from Pinellas County, Courtney Clark, was found in Wisconsin. She had been missing from state care for nine months.

A 13-member Child Protection Task Force met for the first time today on the Tampa campus of the Stetson University College of Law. Department of Children and Families Secretary Bob Butterworth said he appointed the Task Force because of problems exposed in the Clark case and others.

Yesterday Democratic leaders in the Florida Legislature requested a series of oversight hearings into recent scandals in the DCF.

House Democratic Leader Dan Gelber and Sen. Nan H. Rich wrote letters to House Speaker Marco Rubio and Senate President Ken Pruitt asking for the hearings. In addition to the Courtney Clark case, the letters referenced a recent murder of a teenage girl under DCF care, and the rape of a foster child reported last week.

The Miami Herald reports that in her letter to Pruitt, Rich wrote, “… some will say that the agencies are doing their own investigations. That is all well and good; but when children die or are raped in the custody of the state, we the Legislature have our own responsibility to figure out how to make the system better and how to make the children safer.”

Butterworth announced he has appointed a separate panel to evaluate the performance of the Sarasota Family YMCA, which he said has one of the highest budgets but one of the lowest ratings of all Community Based Care providers or CBCs.

Members of the Task Force mentioned that there were inconsistencies between different private CBCs. Butterworth said that concerned him.

Butterworth also said that Florida should rewrite its laws to give child protection officials better oversight and control of its CBCs.

Devan Coffman, a 16-year-old from Pensacola, is a member of the Task Force. He is the District 1 Youth Advisory Board President. Devan said his experience in foster care gives him an inside perspective that others on the task force do not have.

In 2002, DCF had 393 missing children; 290 of them have been located. Task force members suggested that teens that run away from foster care is a large source of missing children.

Case managers need to take more of an interest in the foster children under their care, according to Coffman.

“There’s a lot of improvements that need to be made,” Coffman said.

Ronda Storms is a first-term state senator and is Chair of the Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee.

Storms suggested that new ideas be tried, such as requiring at-risk foster parents to pay a bond to deter abductions. Another suggestion is what she called the “secret shopper” approach.

Yesterday Secretary Butterworth mentioned that he was disappointed that what he called one of the most important programs, funding for 18-year-olds who “age-out” of the foster care system, received only $1-million from the state Legislature.

WMNF asked Sen. Storms why the Legislature didn’t fully fund the program with the $20-million requested by Gov. Charlie Crist.

The task force will issue a preliminary report by October, but Secretary Butterworth said that their findings could be released sooner and the committee could continue indefinitely.

“This committee is established, it’s an ongoing committee … at the greatest need in their lives to have this committee be ongoing, I would like that.”

To report a case of child abuse, call 1-800-96-Abuse.

For more information:

Florida Department of Children and Families

Florida Senate Committee on Children, Families, and Elder Affairs

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