DCF has the will, but needs the tools

February 1, 2008

Miami Herald  —  

A headline in the Jan. 19 Metro Section — Report: Abuse workers in Miami overloaded — may explain the ''why'' behind a Jan. 22 headline in the same section — Report: DCF inept in handling 2 rape cases. The first article cited a new report that specified problems in child protection provided by the Department of Children & Families in Miami-Dade and Monroe counties.

Heavy caseloads

In addition to having heavy caseloads, DCF's child-abuse investigators don't get enough training, wrote Peter Digre, author of the report and a nationally recognized child-welfare expert. Was a lack of training responsible for child-abuse investigators' decision last May to wait days before notifying police that two children had been raped in their foster
home? Did poor training cause one investigator to interview a victim in front of the man she accused of assaulting her?

Let's hope so. Let us hope that it wasn't simply callous, careless behavior by people hired to protect foster children. You can do something about a lack of training: Improve it; hire better instructors; do follow-up checks to make sure the training takes. Alan Abramowitz, new regional DCF administrator in Miami, has a helpful guide in Mr. Digre's report, which is part of a reorganization here.

Besides better training and lower caseloads, Mr. Digre's report recommends, among other things:

• Amass the resources to help an investigator act quickly to remove and place a child away from danger. Sometimes children bound for foster care were left for hours in DCF offices with nothing to do. Investigators must have ready access to decent surroundings for children in transition.

• Fix the glitches in DCF's new child-welfare computer system and, again, train employees how to use it. Otherwise, what's the point offspending millions on an advanced technology to keep track of children in DCF's care?

• Hire more Spanish and Creole translators. Too often, investigators rely on the at-risk child in the family to translate conversations with caregivers. This can obfuscate, not clarify, a situation.

Dedication to the job

Some of these fixes — increasing the number of translators, expanding training programs — will take additional funding. Mr. Abramowitz's boss, DCF Secretary Bob Butterworth, and the Miami-Dade legislative delegation must find that funding despite a tough budget year.

Still, there is something intangible that a good DCF investigator also needs: Dedication to the job. Mr. Digre's report found that this already is in good supply at Miami's DCF. The will is there, now must come the training, common sense and good judgment to help children who are most at-risk here.

http://www.miamiherald.com/opinion/editorials/story/401915.html