By Carol Marbin Miller
With less than a year to go before voters choose the state’s next governor, Florida Democrats are tipping their hand on an issue they think could move the needle in the election: the failures of the state’s child welfare system.
The leader of the Democratic Caucus in the state House of Representative, Perry Thurston of Fort Lauderdale, delivered a letter to Gov. Rick Scott Thursday morning blasting the governor for proposing cuts to the budget of the agency that has failed to prevent the deaths of scores of children whose families had been on the state’s radar because of prior complaints. Scott is seeking re-election, but faces unfavorable poll numbers.
“In view of your abject failure to protect these vulnerable children, I plead with you to avoid in your forthcoming budget recommendations any additional spending cuts to your Department of Children & Families,” Thurston wrote. “When you have failed to protect Florida’s most innocent residents, it would be abhorrent to ask the agency you have tasked with their protection to make budget cuts.”
The shortcomings at DCF first came to light this past summer, when the Miami Herald reported on the deaths of four children DCF had previously investigated. Amid a loud outcry from children’s advocates and community leaders, then-DCF Secretary David Wilkins resigned.
But the deaths continued. At the urging of interim Secretary Esther Jacobo, who had headed the agency’s Miami outpost before being tapped for the job, a team of consultants from Seattle-based Casey Family Programs reviewed 40 child death cases from this year.