May 27, 2010

DCF: still "Destroying Children's Futures"

The Daily Business News reports that Florida's most incompetent bureaucracy is still screwing up.   And Florida's misguided decision to privatize child welfare is paying the expected dividends of ruin and despair.

Back in 2005, DCF entrusted a 10-year old boy to a company called Hillsborough Kids, who accepted responsibility for placing the child in a foster home.  But they didn't to that; they passed the child onto another company to do it.

That company placed the boy in a foster home run by a single mother, which would have been acceptable if a 13 year old boy also in the home hadn't raped him one night.

A lawsuit has been filed on behalf of the boy, of course.  And of course, everyone who was supposed to be watching out for this boy is now behaving reprehensibly.  The subcontractor says Hillsborough Kids is responsible.  Hillsborough Kids claims that DCF is responsible.  Their argument?  DCF is supposed to vet all the contracting agencies.
“It’s sad and a complete waste of resources when we see each blame the other or duck behind technical defenses while the innocent foster child is suffering and waiting to get help,” said Howard Talenfeld, a child advocate with Colodny Fass Talenfeld Kalinsky & Abate in Fort Lauderdale.
If the DCF is solely to blame, the child won't get more than $200,000.  That's the maximum amount allowed by law.  And let's face it, the DCF should hand that over.  This ten year old boy is pretty badly scarred in so many ways.  But the fact is that the DCF is not solely responsible; they found an ostensibly professional service that claimed it could care for the child for a fee.
Meanwhile, private contractors argue they should have immunity from large judgments just like the state despite a statute and contracts that say otherwise. Additionally, providers say they couldn’t afford rising insurance premiums and legal fees that would come with any increase in lawsuits.
Hillsborough Kids accepted responsibility for the boy's welfare.  Once they signed for him, they became the arbiters of his fate, and while their argument that the DCF should have known better  than to trust Hillsborough Kids is interesting, it still doesn't let them off the hook for their choices in the matter.  They signed on for responsibility, and then chose to pass the kid along one more time. Hilllsbrough Kids chose, not the DCF. It was their choice who to pass him along to.

They argue that they should have immunity "just like the state" because they are "acting on behalf of the state."  But they are wrong.  They are not "acting on our behalf."  They are paid to "provide a service," and when they fail to do so, and worse, when their actions cause the damage their service was supposed to prevent, they must be held accountable.

Hillsborough Kids should not only pay for their negligence in this case, they should be punished for having the gall to try to dodge that responsibility.
But providers say that’s unfair and Children and Families Secretary George Sheldon said he supports giving the contractors sovereign immunity, which could limit judgments, fearing a multimillion-dollar verdict could break them. He suggested increasing the cap on the insurance contractors are required to carry and barring judgments above that amount
Hey, George, I have a better idea: keep the kids safe in the first place, so no one will need to file lawsuits.  Otherwise, sue the crap out of these agencies, yes, break them, ruin them, put them begging on the streets.  We should not tolerate this criminal lack of oversight, and that's what you're doing when you build a business plan to allow for it.

Because we can't assign a dollar amount to a child's innocence, to their welfare.

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