Miami Herald editorial: State agency failing to protect at-risk children from bad parents

May 28, 2013 

Nubia Barahona, a little girl who with her brother was adopted by monstrous parents, practically died under the very noses of the Department of Children & Families staffers monitoring her quality of life.

Turns out that she and her brother had no quality of life, and after she was found dead in the back of her adoptive father's pickup truck -- and her little brother on the brink -- an independent panel looking into the tragedy said that Nubia's death stood out "as a model of fatal ineptitude."

So what has DCF learned since then? The recent death of Bryan Miguel Osceola, not yet a year old, suggests, unfortunately, not much. It also suggests that DCF's priorities are skewed in the wrong direction.

The agency is charged with the almost impossible task of protecting thousands of children from harm and neglect within their homes and in foster care. When the agency gets it right, it should be applauded.

However, the agency seems to be engaging in a deceptive and deadly practice, going to great lengths to avoid removing children from their families, even when threat is staring a child-welfare worker in the face. This allows the state to put out a rosier spin that more kids are staying with their families. Pair that sleight-of-hand with what appears to be a reluctance to refer troubled parents for rehabilitative services for substance abuse, parenting or anger management.

Such policies mean too many children still are at risk of dying preventable deaths.

Bryan Osceola, 11 months old, died after his mother left him for hours in a broiling, airless car. His mother, Catalina Marista Bruno, 27, is in jail, charged with aggravated manslaughter of a child.

This is not Ms. Bruno's first encounter with the legal system. She had been arrested three times on charges related to drugs or alcohol. Last November, for instance, she was found passed out, reportedly drunk, behind the wheel of a car after she allegedly clipped several walls. Little Bryan was in the front seat, unrestrained, with his head stuck between the front seats. The transmission was in "drive."

In addition, the entire family had come to DCF's attention. Last July, DCF's hotline got a report that Bryan's father, Amos Osceola, had been arrested for domestic violence after he allegedly attacked Ms. Bruno in front of her three children -- Bryan, a 4-year-old and 10-year-old from a different father. Mr. Osceola reportedly took Bryan and drove to the Miccosukee Resort, leaving the boy at a childcare center and then drinking so much that he was thrown out of the casino. Ms. Bruno, elsewhere, had been drinking.

After Ms. Bruno's November arrest, a DCF investigator determined the obvious, that Bryan and his siblings were trapped in a high-risk situation.

But the agency itself didn't back this up and concluded that the children were safe.

The agency then compounded the miscall by failing to refer either parent for substance abuse services. Though not involved in this case, Miami-Dade Judge Jeri Beth Cohen, citing her experience in child-welfare court, called the screening process to determine whether a parent needs help with substance abuse "a big joke," in which the afflicted usually get to vouch for themselves.

DCF is curtailing service and minimizing the dangers that children face. Often, DCF is the last line of defense for kids under threat.

There is no defense for when DCF repeatedly lets its guard down, and a child dies in its care.

Bradenton Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service