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Oversight Board Wonders Whether Baby's Death Reveals Systemic Problems At DCF

MIAMI (CBSMiami) - The Department of Children and Families is considering a system of "rotating supervisors" after the death of an 11-month-old Kendall boy prompted a closer look at the agency and the protective investigator responsible for his case.

On Thursday, DCF administrators gave a presentation before the Community Based Care Alliance, an oversight board focused on child welfare advocacy in Miami-Dade County.

The CBC Alliance had hoped to learn what DCF was doing to prevent future tragedies like the death of Bryan Osceola.

"It could have been avoided, and that's when you really feel that the system has failed," Circuit Court Judge Jeri Beth Cohen said.

Cohen is the chair of the CBC Alliance.

Osceola died on May 16th, six months after his mother, Catalina Bruno was found passed out behind the wheel of her car with the boy unsecured in the front seat.

Shani Smith, a DCF protective investigator at the time, was assigned the case.

"It appears from everything I've learned and know, I don't know definitively, that (Smith) lied about referring the case to family intensive services," Judge Cohen told CBS4's Lauren Pastrana.

While DCF administrators tried to explain the incident as an isolated case, Cohen said she believes the problems at DCF are systemic, but Smith is not without blame.

"I'm actually appalled that a sitting Circuit Court Judge could make a statement calling my client a liar and unethical before she's even be tried in a court of law. In fact, she isn't even charged with anything," Smith's attorney, David Kubiliun said Friday.

According to DCF, Smith's 113 cases were reviewed.

Of those, approximately 34% of the investigations required some type of corrective action, a spokesperson for the agency said.

Twenty-eight cases required upgrades from "no indicators" of possible child abuse or neglect.

In 13 instances, a protective investigator had to revisit a family.

One case thus far required a new call to the hotline, according to DCF records.

"DCF is going after my client and trying to use her again as a scapegoat," Kubiliun said.

Shani Smith and her supervisor, Duray Smith, no relation, resigned last week.

"The supervisor should have caught it," Judge Cohen said. "That's what's so worrisome about this case."

The judge and DCF said the agency is considering a system of "rotating supervisors", similar to what police departments employ, to keep supervisors from becoming too chummy with their direct reports.

The goal is to increase accountability and reduce tragic mistakes.

"I think the rotation is a start, but it's not enough," Judge Cohen told Pastrana. "There has to be a more stringent review and more quality systemic training."

DCF said it periodically reviews procedures and conducts trainings to make sure the system and its employees are operating as effectively as possible.

Bryan Osceola's mother, Catalina Bruno, remains in jail without bond.

Her attorneys have said she suffers from post-partum depression and is "in crisis."

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