HALLANDALE BEACH (CBS4) - The case of Dontrell Melvin, the Hallandale Beach child who went missing 18 months ago, has brought new attention and criticism to the Department of Children and Families(DCF), Florida's child welfare agency.
Dontrell hasn't been seen since July, 2011. Hallandale Beach police say both his parents are blaming the other in the boy's disappearance, have been charged with child neglect, and police are investigating what they believe to be human remains found in the yard behind the home where the boy lived when he went missing as an infant.
DCF had at least one warning flag that was seemingly ignored regarding Dontrell's disappearance.
"It's heartbreaking to think that, still, after all the upheaval with Rilya Wilson, we still have these kinds of incidents," Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, a Miami-Dade Democrat told CBS4's Gary Nelson on Friday.
Rilya Wilson is the 4-year-old foster child that DCF failed to check on for nearly a year and a half, and was discovered missing in April, 2002. Her caregiver, Geralyn Graham is currently on trial for the girl's alleged murder. A DCF caseworker faked reports claiming to have checked on Rilya when she had not.
In Dontrell Melvin's case, Hallandale Beach police were called to the family home last year regarding a domestic incident, and learned that Dontrell was gone.
In a report at the time, CBS4's News partner, The Miami Herald, says police wrote, "It is not known if the child is alive."
The report was forwarded to DCF's abuse hotline, according to the Herald, and was "screened out," or deemed not worthy of follow-up.
"That question that you're asking is better answered by DCF," said Hallandale Beach Police Chief Dwayne Flournoy.
Late Friday afternoon, DCF Secretary David Wilkins issued a statement about the Hallandale police department's report, providing no detail, but saying the call to police was about a custody dispute between Dontrell's parents.
"We worked with the officer at that time regarding the police department's ongoing investigation of the custody dispute," Wilkins statement said. The statement did not address the police department's concern that Dontrell might not be alive, or what if any efforts were made to lay eyes on the boy.
DCF spokesperson Paige Patterson told CBS4 News the agency could release no further detail regarding what it did or didn't do about reported concerns that Dontrell might not be alive.
"It is part of an on-going investigation," Patterson said.
"DCF has got to buckle down and take these cases seriously," said a visibly moved Congresswoman Wilson.
Wilson also criticized Governor Rick Scott and the legislature for slashing funding to the child welfare agency. DCF's budget has been cut by tens of millions of dollars over the last three years. In 2011, Governor Scott proposed a draconian $179 million in cuts to DCF, saying at the time that "greater efficiencies" could be found to manage the needs of children.
After the Rilya Wilson case, Congresswoman Wilson, then a state lawmaker, sponsored legislation tightening DCF monitoring of children and the agency's budget was bolstered.
Wilson said memories are sadly short when it comes to kids in need.
"That's the first place they go to cut, children and education," Wilson said. "Because children don't have lobbyists."
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