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.