Watchdog: Accountability

Florida agency vows transparency in child death records

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Child-welfare officials said Monday that they are creating a new position within the agency in an effort to improve transparency when releasing child-abuse-death records.

The Department of Children and Families has been under intense scrutiny after a series by The Miami Herald highlighted the deaths of 477 children in the past five years. The newspaper accused the agency of recently shifting its internal policies regarding the sharing of information about child deaths in a way that left the records they released so heavily redacted they were nearly useless.

The details surrounding a child's death are typically public, although names of surviving siblings are confidential.

The person who assumes the new role will oversee data gathering and the agency's responses to child deaths, the officials said.

"When tragedies occur, especially those involving children, our response must be consistent, coordinated, compassionate and transparent," new interim secretary Mike Carroll wrote in a memo Monday to regional managers and the news media.

Gov. Rick Scott appointed Carroll last week. Carroll said he hopes to fill the new position within a month, and he added that the new hire must be given the authority to make policy changes as needed.

Carroll also asked regional managers to finalize plans to streamline reporting so that leaders are immediately informed after a child's death and that information in the reports is consistent and accurate. The Herald series noted serious lag times in reporting child deaths in some cases.

Florida lawmakers also want more accountability from the agency. The Legislature passed a bipartisan bill last week requiring DCF to post child-death information on its website, including the date, region, cause of death, what private contractors were involved and the age of the child. Many of the children identified in the newspaper series were under the age of 5.

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