Parents passionately label DCF corrupt and inept

Parents passionately label DCF corrupt and inept

By Jeff Brumley, staff writer




This article was previously published on on May 16, 2002 at:,1651,TCP_1028_1150094,00.html

Unfortunately it has recently been removed from the web site.



When she finished her prepared talk before the governor's panel on child protection Wednesday afternoon, Port Salerno resident Desere Clabo-Vandevender was looking for reassurance.

Had she made sense? Had she been clear? Had she gotten her point across? Had they listened?

She asked these questions quietly as other parents and self-identified victims of the Department of Children and Families testified before the Blue Ribbon Panel on Child Protection.

"I was so nervous," she said in the back of a giant auditorium at Miami-DadeCommunity College in downtown Miami. "There was so much at stake."

At stake for Clabo-Vandevender and others was a chance, finally, to share nightmare DCF tales with high-powered officials who have the governor's ear and do it in front of the very child welfare officials they've come to fear and despise.

For the panel, formed by Gov. Jeb Bush in the wake of the Rilya Wilson scandal, Wednesday's public hearing was a chance to hear from a segment that's gotten little attention in its previous hearings: Parents who say the DCF ignores its own rules and illegally takes children from their homes.

Rilya is the 5-year-old girl DCF in Miami had placed in a relative's care, then learned in April she had gone missing 15 months ago. The case has ignited a firestorm from DCF critics who say the girl's disappearance proves the agency is inept and corrupt.

DCF Secretary Kathleen Kearney has taken responsibility for the girl's disappearance, but says the case is isolated.

But she and other DCF officials in the audience got an earful Wednesday.

After a morning devoted to listening to Miami-Dade law enforcement, social service officials and DCF management mostly on the subject of foster care runaways, the panel started calling parents and others with axes to grind.

One after another in five-minute presentations they shared stories about how their children were wrongly taken away from them. Some cried. Some screamed. Others spoke quietly.

But all of their stories had a theme: Dishonest and vindictive DCF caseworkers and supervisors, and uncaring or close-minded judges, conspired to rob them of their rights and deprive them of their children.

During her five-minute talk Clabo-Vandevender urged the panel to listen to the things the stories had in common.

"They all want help," Clabo-Vandevender, 30, who battled the DCF for two years in an adoption case, told the panel.

Clabo-Vandevender, executive director of the newly formed Families Best Interest, said that could be done by providing families with a parents' guide to the system whenever DCF becomes involved.

Doing so would help reduce the number of cases for DCF employees and the courts, and would prevent the kind of tragedies the agency creates when it wrongly separates children from their parents, she said.

"The state makes a poor and disinterested parent," she said.

In her tearful testimony before the panel, Stuart resident Sunny Douglas, 50, criticized the DCF for what she described as a "corporate culture" of lying and ignoring procedure that she said has illegally placed her three children in the care of an unlicensed foster family in Ohio without that state's knowledge.

"That's their nature," she told the four-member panel.

On Wednesday, Bush signed a bill making it a third-degree felony for state workers to falsify records related to children, the elderly or disabled in state care.

Rilya's case features just such an accusation, and statements about DCF caseworkers filling out false reports was another theme in Wednesday's testimony before the panel on child protection.

"To falsify records, which is part of the case of Rilya Wilson, won't happen again without penalties," Bush said.

Bush added he thinks Rilya's case is an isolated one.

"There are thousands of really, really good public servants that work in the Department of Children and Families," he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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