Kudos to The Miami Herald and its investigational series on DCF, Florida’s Department of Children and Families, which I have chosen to call The Department of Children and Felonies.
Occasionally over my years of practice I have represented parents whose child was taken from them by “The Department” on slight evidence. For instance there was a little girl in Broward being examined by her young pediatrician who reports to DCF that there was an odd rash around her private parts which might have meant her father was doing what he shouldn’t.
The child was removed from the parents home and given to the wife’s sister as a foster parent, with no contact with the dad. Six months later, after an expert’s examination of the girl and the few months old photographs, the finding was reversed.
However the Herald’s investigation, published and to be published, depict the stories of over 400 children who have died in the last few years after being replaced by the DCF in the home of parents, or one parent and his or her live-in after the divorce.
Not that the death of anyone’s child is to be taken lightly, but these children were in homes of the parents which had lost custody of a child after an investigation and court hearing but had regained the child after some intervention by DCF and the court system.
Stories like the one of a child who was killed by the home’s friendly boa constrictor which killed her in her bed, or of a little boy who suffocated by the drunken or stoned mom who rolled over her as she slept, or of children hit by cars and trucks while wandering the streets at night after their parents left them with no baby sitter.
Why were these endangered children returned to their dangerous parents, you ask? Why were these irresponsible parents trusted with life itself? There are a few reasons that I am aware of:
- Our state’s policy to reunify the family unit rather that look only for the best interest of the children, as we do in dissolution of marriage court cases.
- The presumptive process in removing children from home to foster parent and returning them to the “intact” parental home is childish and unsophisticated. Parents are interviewed, and instructed to visit a psychologist a time or two, and directed to read some books or pamphlets on parenting.
- The parent has other simple “tasks” to accomplish and meet with investigators at their homes from time to time.
- According to the Herald, and in my experience, the DCF investigators are marginally educated and overworked. They and their regular lawyers are so enamored by their unification success they fail to count the dead kids in their wake.
- These lawyers and investigators appear before the same judges day after day and independent lawyers have little chance to persuade this powerful triangle to allow the foster children to remain in foster care if reunification appears to be a frightening risk.
Until the best interest of the “at-risk” children becomes most important to every judge, children will continue to needlessly die. Until the investigators and other semi-educated professionals become more educated and more professional, and until they lose some of the control they have over the judges, children will continue to die.
Michael H. Gora has been certified by the Board of Specialization of The Florida Bar as a specialist in family and matrimonial law, and is a partner with Shapiro Blasi Wasserman & Gora P.A. in Boca Raton. Mr. Gora may be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.