The child welfare agency in Florida has quietly implemented policy changes to address how it responds to allegations of abuse leveled against foster caregivers in the wake of a news investigation in March that surfaced more than 4,000 records detailing such complaints.
But even though the Department of Children and Families’ own internal follow up review substantiated the accuracy of a majority sample of those allegations, few of the accused state-licensed caregivers suffered any consequences, and just 1% lost their lenses, according to USA TODAY.
The departmental review followed USA TODAY’s reporting in March on the substance of calls to the department’s child abuse hotline — many by teachers, health care professionals and child care workers. Among the foster care referrals, as the complaints are called, were reports that children were sent to school hungry or in dirty, ill-fitting clothes. Some Florida foster parents reportedly hit the children with hands, belts or other objects.
The department’s administrative review looked at more than 1,100 of the hotline calls examined by USA TODAY and substantiated 38% of the referrals. About 21% were partially substantiated, and 19% were not accurate.
These results were presented internally during a quarterly performance meeting in July but were not released to the public. For two months, the department didn’t respond to the news organization’s public information requests, giving them up only after the newspaper’s lawyer demanded fulfillment.
In the presentation, the department did discuss plans to change its handling of hotline complaints and to make foster caregivers oversight more robust. The department did not respond to USA Today’s request for comment.
Critics say DCF and its contractors have plenty of incentive not to aggressively pursue allegations of abuse at the hands of licensed caregivers.
“The system chose that foster parent, screened that foster parent and approved that placement, so an accusation of abuse in foster care that’s investigated by DCF means that DCF is investigating itself,” said Richard Wexler, executive director of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform. “It also means if they decide it’s true, they have to go and find another foster home. … That all combines to create a willful blindness.”