Several South Florida legislators took testimony from experts and the public last night on what to do about the Department of Children and Families, and the number of children who die on its watch.
Twenty children died of abuse or neglect in Florida over the summer, 20 children whom DCF already knew were at risk.
It was Broward State Senator Eleanor Sobel who called the pubic meeting of legislative delegations from Miami-Dade, Palm Beach, and her own county and summoned interim DCF Secretary Esther Jacobo to sit on the panel.
For nearly three hours, advocates, case workers and citizens came to the microphones to offer suggestions. They called for better pay for DCF caseworkers, lighter caseloads and stronger legislative oversight. But Child advocate lawyer Howard Talenfeld said the state's problem was of its own making. It had eliminated too many agency jobs to cut state spending.
"There were 76 positions that were cut three years ago and the legislature approved these cuts", said Talenfeld. "They were the folks that were responsible for monitoring our privatized system of care."
Sobel is calling for full legislative hearings on possible lapses by DCF. Jacobo, who has led the agency for a month, says the deaths are under review.