MIAMI (CBSMiami) - Less than 24 hours after CBS4 and The Miami Herald reported on Department of Children and Families investigator Shani Smith not being a certified investigator, DCF has responded to the story, backtracking on a previous statement. Also Wednesday, Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle did not rule out expanding a criminal investigation beyond Smith's alleged wrongdoing in her handling of a case involving a baby who later died.
Smith was the investigator in the case of 11-month-old Bryan Osceola who later perished in a sweltering hot car in May after being left in the vehicle by his mother. Smith allegedly lied about evaluations she had conducted on the mother, before the baby's death, that DCF administrators say were in fact never done.
CBS4's news partner The Miami Herald exclusively acquired internal communications from DCF that said Smith wasn't properly trained or certified as a child protective investigator.
"We have searched our database and hard copy records and do not have any record of her applying for certification," wrote Amy Peloquin, Director of Certification for the Florida Certification Board. "On the good side, she completed training and passed the written test. On the bad side, she has been on the job for well over 2 years without earning any kind of certification."
Peloquin communicated to a fellow administrator that the lack of certification was a big deal because – not just DCF policy – but state law requires child welfare investigators be certified.
"If someone wanted to make an issue of this, they could," Peloquin wrote, "since the law regarding certification has been broken."
State Attorney Rundle, who is investigating the baby's death and Smith's alleged lying about her work on the case, said she could expand her probe beyond Smith's behavior and further into DCF.
"We are investigating it all," Rundle told CBS4's Gary Nelson on Wednesday. "We follow the evidence, we follow the testimony. Sometimes we don't know where it's going to take us, but we follow it and we look for the truth and we hold those who should be held accountable, accountable."
Tuesday night DCF said Smith had not yet been certified but was just weeks from completing her training and receiving the proper credentials.
Just before noon Wednesday, however, DCF sent the following statement to CBS4, backtracking on the Tuesday statement:
"All of our Child Protective Investigators are in some level of certification, whether it's precertification, certification or recertification. Shani Smith had through June of 2013 to complete her certification. Ms. Smith was six hours away from completing her certification which would have been completed within the next few weeks. She had been working directly with a Field Support Supervisor assigned to her in order assist her in completing her requirements.
Precertification takes place within 10 days of a CPI's hire. The CPI must then begin their field, group and individual training. Part of the certification process includes delivering direct services in the field/home.
'Certification is something DCF takes very seriously for our CPIs. The process begins the day the person is hired," said Pete Digre, Assistant Secretary for Operations at DCF. "I am confident that all of our CPIs get properly registered when hired and enter into a program to complete the required certification process to get certified within their first year. This is something that is tracked by a point person in each of our regional offices. I am aware of no exceptions to the rule.
DCF's Wednesday claim would appear to conflict with the agency's internal communication saying Smith was in her job for at least two years, and still not certified.
Smith's attorney, Dave Kubilium, released a statement that read:
"DCF was aware that my client had not received her certification up to the time of her resignation. Miss Smith attempted numerous times to find out the status of her certification both in person and via email to her supervisors. She was given a variety of reasons as to why her certification was still pending, including it being linked to her then supervisor, Duray Smith's supervisory certification. Miss Smith again expressed her concerns to her supervisors after a co worker with the same hire date was certified in early 2013. In the weeks leading up to Miss Smith's departure from the agency, there was an unexplained rush to certify the CPIs in the Quail Roost office. This is another example of the incompetence and lack of professionalism DCF exhibits."
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