The state Department of Children and Families says the case of a 29-pound, 10-year-old girl in Hernando County should not be considered a sign of a failing system. The couple who cared for the child now faces abuse and neglect charges, but DCF says it has made many improvements in how it oversees care of children.
Both children were malnourished and had a history of abuse when Arthur and Lori Allain took custody of them as “non-relative caregivers.”
Voices for Florida’s Children director Cecka Green used to work for DCF. She questions why kids with mental and physical challenges would have been placed with non-relative caregivers instead of trained foster parents. She also wants to know why DCF closed the case on the girl and didn’t try harder to see her when the boy began having trouble with the law.
“If one of the siblings is having an issue, it would only make sense to me that both of the siblings are checked on to make sure that everything is okay,” she says.
Advocates do agree DCF has made many positive changes since the Rilya Wilson scandal broke two years ago. Adoptions are up, employee turnover has slowed and more than 90 percent of children in state custody are seen every month.
Agency spokesman Bill Spann says there’s a new attitude of accountability and he pledges an intense review of what went wrong in Hernando County.
“We have made under Secretary Regier’s leadership and the governor’s guidance, significant progress over the last two years across a wide variety of spectrums, but today’s not the day to be talking about those. Today’s the day to be reviewing all aspects on this past issue and determine whether or not departmental procedures were properly followed.”
But DCF has also eliminated more than 3,000 jobs since Jeb Bush took office and advocates say that’s a symptom of bigger problems.
“It’s hard to say, on one hand we want to make improvements, we want to reduce caseloads and we want to get more foster parents trained, but the funding continues to get cut and that’s an issue the governor and legislature are going to have to honestly address.”
Without the funding and the staff, advocates fear children will continue to fall through DCF’s safety net.
Arthur and Lori Allain will be arraigned on charges of aggravated child abuse and neglect in Hernando County on July 20. They are free on bond.