“There are times when folks co-sleep with a child and they are on substances. To me, that’s neglectful. To me, that should be a crime. That’s no different to me than driving under the influence.”
The Children’s Campaign applauds this recent statement by Department of Children and Families Secretary Mike Carroll to Florida Public Radio. Those of us old enough to remember can recall when driving under the influence was tolerated and even joked about in night clubs and comedy shows. A movement – Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD) – changed the course. Stricter laws were passed and with tougher penalties. Violators were prosecuted and jailed. Advertisements were aired and continue today encouraging responsible drinking and a designated driver. Collectively, it sends a strong message about people being accountable for their actions which hurt, maim or kill others.
Secretary Carroll is on the right path.
More can be done too with the criminal justice system to protect children from abusive parents and caregivers beyond the use of substances. A case in point was covered in detail last week in the CIRRT report regarding the horrific death of Janiya Thomas in Manatee County.
Child Abuse is a Crime
Perhaps the most troubling of the investigative flaws in that report is one that wasn’t mentioned at all.
Between 2003 and 2015, there were 10 investigations into the family due to family violence, physical abuse, environmental hazards and other supervision/neglect issues. As long ago as 2004, court-ordered services were engaged with the family through the Safe Children’s Coalition following the removal of Ms. Thomas’ child due to physical abuse. Throughout the intervening years, involving numerous children, Ms. Thomas appeared to manipulate and game the system, wearing down investigators and caseworkers with obfuscation after obfuscation and resistance to appropriate requests and directions.
Florida’s child protection system is, understandably, predicated on the removal of children from their abusive parents. The Thomas case was closed inexplicably instead of being escalated. But, seriously, shouldn’t equal emphasis be given to removing abusive parents and caregivers from the home when they are unwilling to be accountable, and children are at serious risk? Wouldn’t pressing cases like the Thomas’s a lot sooner in the criminal justice system protect children and send a powerful message to others?
In statute, Florida has some of the strictest penalties for child abuse nationwide – but it appears not to be put into practice nearly often enough. We don’t as yet understand the reason to hesitate from pressing charges when the situation warrants, but it is a serious matter that needs to be addressed.
System-wide Flaws and Technology Gaps
The Department of Children and Families should be credited for its candid transparency in the Janiya Thomas CIRRT report. It recognizes failures every step of the way beginning with the child abuse hotline to the child protection investigations, case management, legal services, and child welfare system oversight.
Despite an entire child protection system developed to protect her, Janiya Thomas hardly stood a chance. She was essentially all alone.
Often news reports only call out the Department of Children and Families when a child dies. That unbalance is especially relevant in this case as the CIRRT review team reported that others, starting with the law enforcement community, made mistakes leading to the deadly outcome.
A recent trend analysis by The Children’s Campaign of completed CIRTT reports – inclusive of Janiya Thomas – shows the same issues are repeated through a majority of Florida child deaths. The Children’s Campaign believes these patterns speak to large, systemic flaws and technology gaps rather than idiosyncratic human error.
So far, only 33 Florida child deaths have received a CIRRT review, which is a small fraction of child maltreatment deaths so far this year. By initiating CIRRT reviews only for child deaths involving verified abuse and neglect within 12 months, critical data is being overlooked that could shed more light on why reports of abuse and neglect are not being verified and what could be done to more fully involve the criminal justice system on a timely basis.
The purpose of CIRRT is to review and disclose actions taken and to address flaws that may have led to these children’s deaths. We strongly encourage the more widespread use of CIRTT and their timely publication to uncover issues and to drive responses and solutions.
To view The Children’s Campaign CIRRT analysis documents, visit:
This Top Story brought to you by Karen Bonsignori and Roy Miller
With online support from Tiffany McGlinchey
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