State House Democratic Leader Perry Thurston stood in front of a decorated Christmas tree on Fort Lauderdale's Sistrunk Boulevard yesterday, and talked about three children he says died because of Governor Scott and his budget cuts to the Department of Children and Families. Democrats will be demanding full funding for the state's primary child welfare agency.
All three children died horrifically, Thurston said, at the hands of caretakers whose deficiencies DCF lacked the resources to notice. In a scathing letter addressed to Governor Rick Scott, Thurston accused him of favoring small government ideology over the welfare of children. As a result, 40 children have died.
Fellow state representatives Elaine Schwartz of Hollywood and Barbara Watson of Miami Gardens stood with Thurston as he demanded that all of last year's budget cuts to DCF be restored. In a recent report, the Casey Family Programs foundation, which looks at policies affecting children, found that many of DCF's systemic failures were the result of underfunding. But it also blamed controversial policies, such as a bias in favor of reunifying families, for its record of tragic outcomes. Thurston agreed, there are a lot of problems.
"Do I think money is the total factor? Probably not", Thurston said. "But the policy of forcing reunification as opposed to protecting children, moneys for the things that need to be done, it’s a combination."
There's no sure sign yet of what Governor Scott intends for DCF next year. Thurston says the agency has been running what-if exercises to practice for budget cuts of as much as five percent. Interim DCF Secretary Esther Jacobo said early this year that money can’t solve problems as complex as he department has experience. Meanwhile, she has announced she will leave the job as soon as April.