I am still tasting bitter disgust from an article I read over the weekend. It was written by Mike Clary, a reporter I both respect, and whom, coincidentally, I used to live next to in Coral Gables. His article ran in the Sun-Sentinel and the Miami Herald over the weekend. Let me cut to the chase for you. I'm sure you'll see precisely where my problems began and where they are fixated still.
Sierra and Melvin have been jailed, charged with felony child neglect. Though Dontrell's death was ruled a killing, no homicide-related charges have been filed in the case.
Both Miles (Dennis Miles, DCF's southeast regional managing director) and Benitez (Emilio Benitez, CEO of ChildNet, the private agency contracted by the state's Department of Children and Families to oversee foster care in Broward and Palm Beach counties) said a high-profile case, such as Dontrell's, may influence investigators' decisions on removals.
'They see that from a simple mistake they may get prosecuted," Benitez said. "That sends a chill down your spine. It sends a chill across the whole system."
Child-abuse investigators are required to remove a child from a home when the child is in imminent danger. The case is then to go before a dependency court judge for a shelter hearing within 24 hours."
This is Dontrell Melvin. I don't know about you, but to me he doesn't look like the victim of a simple mistake.
He looks like a CHILD. One who is now forever gone from this earth.
This child was murdered by his parents, who were supposedly investigated by the Department of Children and Families. He is one of six children I know of who have suffered the same fate in my state thus far this year. You can read about them, in brief, in various Florida news outlets: Ezra Raphael, Antwan Hope, Fernando Barahona, Bryan Osceola, Dontrell Melvin and Emma Morrison. A few days before Mike's article ran, the Miami Herald ran an OpEd aptly titled "DCF Fails Vulnerable Children."
You can see how "affecting" to some child welfare sector management the public outcry has been when you hear tone-deaf responses like that of Mr. Benitez, CEO of ChildNet, an organization managing child welfare case management services in not one but two counties. Failure to remove this child was "a simple mistake," and that, oh, boohoo, child protective investigators have been "chilled" by the fact that they'll get at a minimum a lot of notoriety, and a at a maximum, charged if the children they investigate are further harmed and/or killed.
I'll tell you what's chilling and it has nothing to do to with whether PIs are removing more children because they're afraid if they don't that they'll be.... oooooooh! cue the Twilight Zone theme.... in the public eye.
I've said it before and I won't quit saying it:
Where is the WELFARE in my state?
We need an army of Mike Clarys and Carol Marbin Millers in my state and we need to give them megaphones and a large bandwidth to make the stories of these children heard and most of all, to prevent similar stories. We need a rising tide of outrage to crest in change. It should be chilling that any child is unsafe when under the watchful eye of the Department of Children and Families!
From Rilya Wilson to Nubia Barahona to Dontrell Melvin and onwards, we have too many dead children, too many excuses, too much handwringing. We have no real change in my state.
It's a cruel irony that children's protective services doesn't even come into play until after a child has suffered harm. But to allow that harm to accrue? To ignore it? To turn a blind eye and then cry crocodile tears when that child dies? To call these compounded failures "simple mistakes?"
These are not "simple mistakes."
No mistake that involves the death of a child ever will be.
These are shameful failures. They represent the utter failure of the system of care. They represent no meaningful caring at all.
The bottom line is that, in my state, saving money is more important than saving children's lives.