New Florida DCF chief backs off attempts to shield information about child deaths

May 5, 2014 

BEFORE AND AFTER: A DCF incident report before the new deletion policy, left, and after the policy was enacted, right. MIAMI HERALD

Just days after the Miami Herald reported that the Department of Children and Families had shut down the the flow of information about a string of child deaths under its watch, the agency's new secretary has released a memo that promises to share more information with the public.

Entitled "Vision for Transparency and Reporting of Child Deaths," the one-page memo released today by Interim Secretary Mike Carroll orders the DCF's assistant secretary Pete Digre to create a position within the Office of Child Welfare "to oversee reporting, data gathering and response to child deaths."

He said he expects the position to be filled within a month and once it is, "all child deahts will be reviewed by the department to quickly identify the salient issues that will help inform and shape local prevention strategies."

The memo, which copies DCFs regional managers and which was released to the media, also makes this claim: "These reviews must be documented in a way that can be shared with the public without violating confidentiality."

In the final weeks of the legislative session, as lawmakers were completing an overhaul of the child welfare statutes to increase accountability, transparency and oversight at DCF, the agency attempted to remove a provision in it that requires that all deaths of children under age 5 be posted on its web site.

The amendment that gutted those provisions and others was ultimately pulled, and the requirement was passed as part of the bill, SB 1666, but it now appears that after Carroll's arrival last week, the agency has had an about face. Download Transparency memo05052014

"Our goal is to increase awareness so communities across the state can identify where additional resoruces or efforts are needed ot assist struggling families,'' Carroll wrote.

The Miami Herald last week documented how the agency had shifted its internal policies regarding release of information regarding child deaths in response to a Miami Herald investigation. After the Herald's Innocents Lost series was published in March, the Herald made a request for documents about new child deaths. The agency inadvertently sent some of the same documents it had previously released but this time the entire page was nearly black with redactions, making it impossible to determine the cause of death or any other significant information. Here's that story.

Still unknown is what the governor will do with the child welfare overhaul when he receives it. As recently as Friday, when the Legislature adjourned, the governor refused to commit to signing it, or letting it become law without his signature. "I will review it,'' he said.

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