Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Measured Response from DCF

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Measured Response from DCF

Article excerpt

COMMENTARY

It is hard to overstate the difficulty that caseworkers face as they respond to reports of potentially neglected and abused children -- and then have to make judgments that can change the children's lives dramatically, for better or worse.

It is also really difficult for the rest of us, including state- level administrators, to know how good or bad a job the state is doing.

When we hear nothing for a while, we either assume that the Florida Department of Children and Families and agencies they work with must be doing OK, or, more likely, we just don't think about it. After bad headlines about tragic deaths of children by abuse or neglect, we may start suspecting the worst even though such horrific events are not always foreseeable or connected.

But even when an after-the-tragedy investigation reveals bad judgment or flat-out error and policy violation by a government employee, it is not always a sign of overall system failure or proof that DCF's system needs a major overhaul.

That's why I wrote recently about the danger of overreacting. I think DCF administrators have done so quite harmfully at times, in response to high-profile errors and deaths in past years and decades. I think there is ample evidence that, at times, when a critical spotlight was on them, a sincere desire to do a better job protecting kids led to serious trauma for many children by spawning overly zealous practices that took far too many kids away from their families.

Even flawed families are often better for kids than crowded group homes full of upset kids who want to go home, or than sending children to underqualified foster parents hired when the system has a sudden glut of kids in state care.

That's why I'm so glad to see news of DCF's apparently appropriate reaction to the investigation of the death of Chance Walsh, a baby that DCF probably could and should have saved.

Law enforcement investigators believe Chance died after his father, Joseph Walsh, 36, hit him multiple times. …

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