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Judge Slams DCF Over Children Not Getting Care

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MIAMI (CBSMiami) - Florida's Department of Children and Families has been notorious for its failures to protect children on its watch. Just this month, in yet the latest tragedy, five year-old Phoebe Jonchuck was thrown to her death from a bridge by her father, despite earlier calls to DCF's hotline that the man was a danger to his children.

In a Miami-Dade courtroom Wednesday, the issue was the failure of DCF to provide residential psychiatric treatment for severely disturbed children. Judge Michael Hanzman had called the hearing for DCF to "show cause" why it should not be sanctioned over the mental health treatment issue.

"Time and time again, I've ordered these children into psychiatric residential treatment and these orders have not been timely complied with," the judge said. "I do not believe it is appropriate or acceptable for children who need psychiatric care to have to wait months to secure a bed," Hanzman said.

DCF has pointed the finger of blame at the Agency For Health Care Administration (AHCA), which is charged with providing mental health facilities. AHCA has in turn blamed DCF, and private companies to whom the state has outsourced residential psychiatric treatment.

The Judge was having none of it.

"Make sure that those contractors honor their obligations and actually secure enough facilities to place these children," the judge declared.

Seemingly coincidentally, Governor Rick Scott Wednesday announced he will propose an increase of $80 million in DCF's budget. The governor saying in a statement, "Protecting our children is a top priority for me."

The budget announcement released Wednesday did not directly address the issue of residential treatment facilities for mentally disturbed children, and DCF had not responded to inquiries from CBS4 News by the time this story was posted.

Back in the Miami-Dade courtroom, Judge Hanzman said the state must do better.

"I'm not a policy maker and I don't make legislation," the judge said. "This is a problem. It just happens over and over again and the waits seem to be getting longer."

The Wednesday hearing specifically involved an 11 year-old boy who the judge ordered into a program more than a month ago. A DCF represenative said it hoped to have the child in a facility in "about two weeks."

Judge Hanzman continued the "show cause" hearing for two weeks, ordering the bureaucrats to get the child into treatment. He stopped short of suggesting that someone might yet be held in contempt.

Click here to watch Gary Nelson's report. 

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