So far in 2013, 225 child deaths have been reported to the Florida Abuse Hotline. That total includes 18 in Miami-Dade – the highest number for any county in the state – and 15 in Broward.
"You can't have children dying all around you and not say there's a flaw in our system," said Christina Spudeas. She is executive director of the advocacy group Florida's Children First.
Child protective investigators across the state are now being trained in a new way to respond to calls alleging neglect or abuse.
This week’s group, a group in Broward where the sheriff’s office oversees DCF investigations, is finishing up eight days of instruction.
The child protection transformation project is two years in the making, since the Barahona investigative team found serious problems with the way DCF investigations were being handled.
Recent cases have refocused attention on the need for change.
"Currently it’s sort of a quick fix. I always felt like we were putting Band-Aids on situations, whereas now we're really going to get to what the wound is and how can we help you," said Michael Calavetta, a former investigator who now trains others on the new system.
In May DCF removed 202 children from their homes in Miami-Dade and Broward. One of the expected results of the new system is fewer removals and less court involvement.
"We have cases where you remove the child numerous times, you go out, you give them a case plan, they complete it, they get the kid, and you come back and you remove again, so definitely we're missing something. So we need to get to the underlying issue, what (keeps) bringing the family back to the department, let’s address the real problem, not just what's on the surface," said Wilmine Merilan-Louis, an investigator in Broward.
Spudeas, from Florida's Children First, supports the core concept.
"Anytime the state is making it a goal to make the proper decisions and only remove children from their homes that are really at risk is a good thing," she said.
Under the transformation DCF supervisors will be required to take a more active role in overseeing child investigations from start to finish.
Recently a child protective investigator and her supervisor from Miami-Dade left the department when they were on the verge of being fired for their handling of a case that ended in the death of Bryan Osceola.
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