Six years ago, Florida’s then-Governor Rick Scott enacted harsher child welfare laws. Under these new set of rules, children were separated from their families much easier to protect them from dangerous situations. However, new data shows that Florida’s DCF placed thousands of children with child abusers after rushing to remove them from their parents’ care.
Within the last decade, almost 170 children were put in foster homes with a history of abuse. In one instance, two preschoolers revealed that their foster father had molested them in 2016. Despite this revelation, Florida continued to place children in his care, sending him 13 more kids. By 2017, the state was desperately looking to place 6,000 additional children, often overlooking sexual abuse claims to place them in homes quickly.
Another option for placing the children was group homes, which were not much safer than the foster homes. Between 2013 and 2017, the number of children under the age of 10 who were sent to group homes doubled. One such home, the National Deaf Academy in Mount Dora, FL, was the subject of a whistleblower complaint claiming that children were punched, spit on, and denied medical care by staff.
DCF Secretary Chad Poppell attributes the issues to the privatization of the foster care system in the early 2000s, which left DCF “faded into the background and became too distant from the front lines of child welfare.” As part of his work to repair the broken system, he was able to secure $7 million for quality assurance. He continues to work towards “resources to drive performance and positive outcomes for families.”
“This has led to a fractured system that is not appropriately resourced, lacks bandwidth for increases in children in care, and is not performance-driven,” Poppell said. “This is not how I would design a system around my own children, and especially not our children in foster care.”
In St. Johns County, caseworkers sent over 70 children to one foster family in particular, despite the father having a history of child abuse dating back to 1996. In 2019, he was sentenced to 25 years in prison for sexually abusing one of his foster children over the course of seven years, beginning when she was just 5-years-old.
Many families have been asked to take in more children than they can handle as the system continues to struggle with overload. According to the investigation, the number of foster homes caring for four or more kids almost doubled between 2014 and 2018.
During the course of the USA TODAY investigation, DCF and the nonprofit agencies tried to deter the publication from obtaining information about foster parents and the allegations by demanding $50,000 for search and copy fees for disciplinary records. DCF even went as far as to ask legislators to pass a law that would block foster parents’ names from the public. Luckily, this law was not passed.