Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Tragic accident casts another spotlight on the state where it is most needed.

I hate blogging about tragedies.

And I've been circumspect, for example, waiting until the day after the funerals began for the victims of the Sago Mine disaster before I said anything about it on Deep Thought. And one benefit of this is that I have facts available to blog with, instead of engaging in idle speculation.

Today though there was a story out from Florida that really makes me angry. Angry because it's very closely related to something I have been pointing out for years (literally) and not much has been done about. Today's tragedy may or may not turn out to be related to the problems in the Florida child welfare system (we will have to learn more about what happened to determine whether and to what degree the adoptive parents of seven children and the Florida Department of Children and Families may have been at fault.) What we do know is that seven children who had been (or in one case were being) adopted by the same family were in a minivan, driven by a fifteen year old girl (the legal age to obtain a driver's license in Florida is sixteen) and it was struck from behind by a truck carrying bottled water (which apparently failed to brake) and then was crunched between the truck and a school bus. If any of the seven survived the initial impact (doubtful given how compressed the van was), they died soon after as the van was engulfed in flames. Two children on the bus are also in very serious condition tonight and several more were injured in the crash.

Now, today's episode and the question of why the driver was allowed to drive, and carry six others before it was legal to do so aside, it is a fact that the state of Florida has singularly and spectacularly failed in its duty to protect its children.

Last year, the state was in the headlines for failing to track and follow up with convicted sex offenders. Two of them subsequently killed young girls in places where according to records, they should not have been. Once that came out, it turned out that making sure that registered sex offenders actually were living where they were registered was just not a priority for Florida, and it appears that thousands may have slipped through the cracks.

The Florida Department of Children and Families was also negligent in some truly apalling ways, such as losing dozens of children, including five year old Rilya Wilson, who simply has vanished to no one knows where sometime during fifteen months of missed visits by DCF.

Now, I know a number of people who work with kids here, and I am sure that they are the same in Florida--mostly hard working professionals, underfunded, underpaid, and overworked, who when they make the right call rarely get credit but if they make a mistake, it will haunt them, in every single sense of that word, for the rest of their lives. However, there is a difference between Arizona and Florida. When we had some egregiously horrible cases here involving Child Protective Services, our Governor made reforming CPS a top priority, and pushed the funding for it through a Republican legislature. The Governor of Florida, Jeb Bush, had the opportunity to do the same, but he chose to do nothing.

In fact, Jeb's biggest nod to kids was to try to eliminate twelfth grade, and replace it with a year of preschool in order to save costs. Of course, most parents who care about their kids already send them to preschool, so in fact this was simply to eliminate twelfth grade (to pay for Jeb and the Republican legislature's tax cuts.) In a world where America's kids are increasingly losing the competitive edge with their counterparts from foreign countries, and where many blame, rightly or wrongly, our educational system, it is hard to understand how chopping off a year of high school will benefit children in Florida.

We need to do better by our kids everywhere, and it is true that we can't jump to any conclusions about today's tragedy until the police finish investigating it, but it has been clear in the past that the Sunshine State is way behind the rest of the country in taking care of kids.

15 comments:

lily said...

Should be the opposite, in some countries they have 13th grade, and trimesters for travel during the year. Such differences have an obvious impact.

lily said...

Eli,
I would be interested in your particular perspective regarding the role of 'welfare organizations', given your views on the failings of our beloved 'sunshine state'... I wrestle with the knowledge that these bureaucracies are needed but my first hand experiences working in them led to some dissappointing eye opening realizations about how they fall tragically short...

Eli Blake said...

Lily,

In many cases they do fall short, but it is like prison rehab, providing school lunches to poor children and other government services that maybe have had their problems over the years but just could not be done privately because there is no way people could make a profit doing it. We have to try. Where there are deficiencies, we have to work to fix them. We've been doing that in this state with Child Protective Services, and most states have addressed the problems (especially as issues like the danger from serial pedophiles and child abuse have become more focused in society). And yes, addressing it costs money (the old adage that people always say when passing a budget cut, that you have to 'do more with less,' just isn't realistic, when you are talking about agencies that are already stretched to the breaking point.

The problem with Florida is that with Jeb Bush as governor, they just haven't done much about this. Apparently it hasn't been on the radar with them, as it has in most states.

Eddie81 said...

An item closely related to this...

How well do states protect their children from (sex) predators?

Florida excells in this area (as does Arizona).

Eli Blake said...

Florida excells in this area

Tell that to the parents of Jessica Lunsford or Sarah Michelle Lunde (both murdered by registered sex offenders who the state had not been checking on).

Eddie, you need some facts, friend. I've told you this already (on the Toyota thing), but check out the facts.

Florida has been singled out a number of times as falling behind the rest of the country, and by law enforcement organizations.

But heck, just check my link in the post. Have you ever heard of any other state where the child welfare department actually loses kids? I mean, in this state (and I'm sure yours), if a kid is under the custody of the state (whether in a foster home, or wherever else), you can be sure that the state checks on them regularly and on schedule, and that the case workers insist on seeing the child. And the really embarrassing thing that happened in the link I posted was that the newpaper reporters, without even having access to the state database on the kids, made some phone calls and managed to find several of them (but not Rilya Williams, unfortunately, who is today eight years old someplace, if she's alive.)

I mean, if the state impounds your vehicle because you were parked illegally, then you expect that they know where it is and that if you go through the necessary steps, you can get it back, right? Well, don't you think that as a minimum, the state should be able to find a child who is under their care? Is that asking so much?

Eddie81 said...

Eli,

Check your own facts! Ever heard of "Jessica's Law"? It originated in Florida.

It is tragically unfortunate that this law was only passed after the deaths of those two girls. But at least Florida has those laws now. A majority of states still do not.

I am a high school math teacher in a public school. There is a teacher in my department who is not worth 2 cents as a teacher, role-model, or mathematician. He has been teaching for almost 30 years. Should I blame governor Daniels for this? How about former governors Bayh or O'Bannon? Then do not blame Jeb for one Child Welfare worker who should not have had the job to begin with. If it happens again I will be the first one to assign some (not all) of the blame with the governor.

In the same fashion, I did not blame Bush for 9/11. He would have to bear much of the blame if it happened again.

When I read some of your posts on Coldheartedtruth I thought you formed good arguments. I came to your site to hear logical ideas from the left (I know that sounds like an oxymoron). But when I have tried to respond to your posts, you have slung rhetoric. Is this to be expected in the future?

lily said...

Eli- I think the sad truth is that we have extreme disparities in our handling of children and one would think we could do better by ALL children, in all states. (well, everywhere)I have worked in many such agencies over the years, and have seen indifference and detachment on the part of many workers and losing a kid would not surprise me. But there were some elements of cross-checking that do not exist in all systems. There are some simple tracking systems that could be implemented.
Probably the cars would always be found faster than the kids. They seem able to problem solve on THOSE types of matters.
Thank Eli for your willingness to humor my questions with patience.

Eli Blake said...

Eddie,

Jessica's Law originated in Florida as a result of the tragedies. And it is a good law. But the fact is, registered sex offenders should be checked on regularly. And most states do this (although I've suggested more effective means of doing this.) And Florida was embarrassed into passing the law because of the revelations that they weren't following up on checking on the sex offenders.

As to teaching math, I also do that (at a community college) and it is true that there are probably more than a few out there who don't do their job (based on what I see when they get to me). Of course right now we are trying to hire a math instructor, and that is critically difficult to do.

And again, maybe Jeb could not be blamed for one incidence, but again if you follow my link, there were at least two dozen lost kids that the newspaper reporters looked into. Williams is the most egregious and publicized case of many. When something happens one time, then you may be right about it not being fair to criticize the authorities. If it happens frequently, that is a different matter.

And no, I don't generally sling rhetoric. But I do expect factual analysis, and if you say something just plain wrong, I will say so. And that goes both ways-- One policy I have is that I publically acknowlege anyone who can find an error in a post: And I've only had to exercise it four times in over 220 posts: To wit, first time (although it turned out later that I was right after all), second time, numbers 3 and 4. Find an outright error, and I don't have a problem listing you as number five.

Eli Blake said...

Lily:

If you click on the first link in my post to Eddie, you will see that I've been an advocate for awhile of using monitoring devices like the one Martha Stewart had to wear to keep track of sex offenders. Then we would know not only if they were residing where they were supposed to be, but for that matter where they were all the time.

Barbi said...

Many unanswered questions in this accident. This is a heartbreaker. Most of the burden of blame for the problems in these 'children and family services' systems are specifically due to the lack of caring and the great lack of responsibility and accountability by government to properly fund and run these programs -- including having enough qualified and decently paid caseworkers and staff available so that children do not get "lost" in such a system. (Just think of all of these kabillions of TAXPAYER dollars that are being and have already been spent on this illegal war, and how what some of it could do to benefit many of these less-advantaged people here in our own country, instead of making rich people even richer.) It should NOT be based on it being a profit making undertaking in any way whatsoever.

eddie81 is showing himself to be a classic example of why some kids don't like math. A "teacher" who can't even learn the what the *REAL* news and facts are. A governor is expected to run his state and take care of its people and their concerns. A duly capable and intelligent president will READ the presidental daily briefings ("Bin Laden determined to attack") and heed the other repeated warnings about a possible attack on his country and try to do something, and take responsiblity for his own failures to lead, instead of going off on so many vacations to cut brush or fall off his bike.

Eddie81 said...

Barbi,

Why the vicious personal attack on my teaching skills? Is it just because I believe Fox News is less biased than CBS or the NY Times. That makes me a poor teacher??? Check this out before you blast me for watching Fox (in addition to MSNBC and CNN).
http://www.newsroom.ucla.edu/page.asp?RelNum=6664
Remember those end of course surveys we did in college? The students in my math classes do those as well.

Barbi said...

...just because I believe Fox News is less biased than CBS or the NY Times.

There you go.

The facts here are that you do NOT bother with learning from a variety of news sources in a wider field of topics and OBJECTIVELY form your OWN opinions, and that you dare to attack the credibility of others who have proven themselves more diverse and well-rounded in a much wider scope on a variety of issues.

I've not made any "vicious" personal attacks, another thing in which your reality perception is flawed.

I never questioned your skills, only pointed out why some students have problems relating to their teachers.

Biased and narrow-minded thinking doesn't go far with me. And trying to prove your own proficiency by pointing to ONE particular 'end of course survey' doesn't impress me at all.

I do know, however, that one cannot change a mind that is closed.

A piece of paper hanging on a wall is not proof of personal integrity.

Eli Blake said...

Hey, guys.

Keep the flaming in the hall, please. :)

Barbi said...

My apologies, Eli. I have absolutely no patience for people like that.

Eddie81 said...

Barbi,

What can't you get through your thick head? I watch CNN, MSNBC, and Fox. So yes, I do get information from all sides to help form my opinions. How about you? How many hours of Fox in the last week? Did you even look at the UCLA report???

I don't have to point to "one particular end of course survey" because I have years of them, in addition to SAT scores, college admissions, and students that come back year after year to thank me for getting them ready for college.

"Biased and narrow-minded thinking" must have some weight with you because that is all you have exhibited here! I like reading Eli's posts because they are thoughtful and present a side that I need to read to stretch my brain. Your's, however, provide no insight (except the shallowness of the typical liberal). So in the future, I will ingnore your posts and you can ignore mine.