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Report Blasts State Over Child Abuse Deaths

TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami) —  There's a scathing new report out regarding the state's efforts to prevent child abuse deaths across Florida.

The Department of Children and Families released the report Tuesday which was prepared by the private non-profit organization Casey Family Programs, a  national leader in child welfare policy.

The review was ordered by Interim DCF Secretary Esther Jacobo.

"Less than a week after being named Interim Secretary, I called for a thorough review of all child fatalities due to abuse and neglect in 2013 where there was prior involvement by the department," said Jacobo.

"The report identified many shortcomings and potential improvements to our protective investigative practice," wrote Jacobo upon release of the report.

The report found that most common cause of death for children was asphyxia, followed by drowning, and then physical abuse. The report found that investigators did not look at other family problems such as domestic violence or drug abuse that should have warned them that a child was in danger.

One of the children killed included 2-year old Antwan Hope from the South Florida area. He was nearly smothered with a pillow by his mother 2 years ago but DCF took no action at the time explaining the 2-year old never told investigators what his mother tried to do to him. Hope was given back to his mother this past summer and died.

The report says DCF workers should have seen this coming.

The report indicated investigators did not do everything they needed to for each case. The report stated,"domestic violence and substance abuse dynamics were woefully under explored."It also stated,"the overall thoroughness of the investigations leading up to the child's death is highly questionable."

The report highlights cases of what are referred to as"roll over deaths" where a drug using or drug addicted adult smothered infants  in their care when sleeping with them.  DCF workers were giving information on how to sleep and having parents sign agreements to refrain from co-sleeping with infants calling it "highly risky" and a "questionable basis for safety planning."

The report also found"safety assessments" of families and children who subsequently died "did not appear to consider"the family's prior history.

Jacobo said the agency was undertaking a series of steps in response to the report.

Those steps include engaging critical partners such as Healthy Families Florida, Early Learning Coalitions, the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence and the Florida Council Against Sexual Abuse to strengthen their outreach and service delivery. Child Protective Investigators (CPI) will be required to thoroughly analyze protective capacities of the parent or caregiver and DCF will identify additional staffing resources needed to ensure CPIs can adequately follow up on safety plans and home visits. DCF will also develop a protocol for protecting siblings and other children in a household following a suspected child maltreatment fatality.

"I'm responsible for all those children, so trust me when I say I hope that no other children die," said Jacobo.

There are 13 recommendations in the report. You can read the entire report here


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