Mar 22, 2021 - News

Investigation finds scant punishment for Florida foster home abuse

Cover via Sarasota Herald-Tribune

A USA Today investigation into Florida's foster care system revealed a lax approach to investigating and punishing foster parents accused of abuse or neglect.

  • The paper's Suzanne Hirt, Michael Braga and Peat Beall reviewed a cache of 5,000 documents that reveal allegations of foster care abuse are more widespread than previously reported.  

Why it matters: The Department of Children and Families investigates complaints of abuse and neglect — so when DCF investigates foster families, it is effectively investigating itself, creating possible conflicts.

The backdrop: In 2014, state lawmakers rewrote rules to make it easier to take children from their parents, but they had no plan for where to house the growing numbers.

  • An October USA Today investigation showed that caseworkers placed kids in overcrowded homes and with foster parents who later faced civil or criminal charges of sexual assault and torture.

How it happened: An anonymous source gave the paper a spreadsheet of calls to the DCF abuse hotline from teachers, health care professionals, day care workers, neighbors and others about the treatment of kids in state care. 

  • The number of foster care referrals rose by roughly 54% over the past five years.
  • DCF revoked or refused to renew only 29 caregivers’ licenses over the same period.

Between the lines: In an overburdened child welfare system, the kinds of abuse and neglect that would get children removed from their biological parents may not get kids removed from foster parents.

  • That's a dangerous double standard.

This story first appeared in the Axios Tampa Bay newsletter, designed to help readers get smarter, faster on the most consequential news unfolding in their own backyard.


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