News Articles

FIRST-PERSON: Defending the weakest

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (BP)–Children who are in custody for protection by Florida’s Department of Children and Families, or those who have been recommended for such protection, are unfortunate poster children for egregious episodes of abuse and neglect by a troubled government agency.

Since the debacle of Rilya Wilson, the 5-year-old in DCF custody who went missing for 15 months before anyone noticed, the Florida Department of Children and Families seems unable to mend the cracks through which so many of its vulnerable children fall.

Despite the recent high-profile firing of two agency workers in an effort to address its ills, the agency has done little to alleviate the tragic events and ongoing concerns of its inability to protect children under its oversight.

On Oct. 3, The Miami Herald reported that a Miami judge ordered a four-month-old baby removed from the care of its teenage mother and placed in a foster home after it was discovered that the child had suffered scull and rib damage. What is so troubling about this case is that the court order was completely ignored, as several previous court orders had been concerning the same child.

Another disturbing child abuse case involves a Jacksonville mother who recently left her 2-year-old child unattended for 19 days while she served a jail sentence for shoplifting. Thankfully, the child survived the ordeal. But once again, reports show that this mother also had been reported to DCF for neglect and abuse just prior to the child’s lengthy abandonment.

Now, the major question is, How many children must become victims of death and death-defying neglect before Florida Gov. Jeb Bush ceases with political cosmetics and makes serious changes in the way the Department of Children and Families responds to allegations and to situations of actual child neglect?

It is obvious to all reasonable thinkers that the government cannot provide the needed care, unconditional love and consoling protections so lacking in the lives and daily experiences of severely neglected children. Yet, because of the scope and magnitude of the problem, it is to the government that a concerned public must look to do a better job of protecting Florida’s at-risk children.

Now is as good a time as any for Florida’s politicians, if they really want to serve the public and ensure the health of the state’s future, to step up to the podium, to look the lion straight in the mouth, to defend the weakest in their midst.
Terriel R. Byrd, Ph.D., is assistant professor of religion and director of urban ministries studies at Palm Beach Atlantic University in West Palm Beach, Fla.

    About the Author

  • Terriel Byrd