A top official for the Florida Department of Children & Families told senators at a hearing Tuesday that the state was no longer relying on a “promise” from parents that they would do right by their children, a practice that left some members of the Children, Families & Elder Affairs Committee shaking their heads.
In a domestic violence case, for instance, “we would get the mom to promise that if she and her boyfriend, whoever, engaged in domestic violence that she would leave,” said Stephen Pennypacker, DCF’s new assistant secretary for programs. “That’s not a safety plan. That’s a prescription for disaster … So we don’t do that anymore.”
He said the agency is addressing several other measures to improve its efforts, many of them recommendations from a recent report by the nonprofit, Seattle-based Casey Family Programs.
Committee chairman Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, said “lots needs to be done” in the aftermath of at least 40 children dying while under state care between January and July.
“We’re looking for solutions,” she said, noting that legislators also need to determine “what can be done administratively and what do we need to pass by law.
"I think we're digging deep to find out why so many kid died and making improvements," she said, noting that more of a team approach, staffing and re-evaluating assessment tools would "make the system work better."
Sobel said she agreed with the findings of the Casey Family report, which pointed out many issues in Florida’s child welfare system, and said those suggestions should be implemented.
Interim DCF Secretary Esther Jacobo requested Casey Families conduct a comprehensive review in order to identify potential improvements and shortcomings in the agency's protective investigative process after the Herald catalogued the stories of children from families with DCF histories who had died over the spring and summer.