In response to a USA Today series on widespread sexual abuse in Florida’s foster care system, Florida state Senator Lauren Book convened a hearing on January 12, raising the critical question why out of 92 reports of children being sexually abused by state-licensed foster parents, only 6 allegations were verified, especially since 70% of the reports were from credible sources? At the hearing, DCF Secretary, Chad Poppell, recognized DCF’s shortcomings in preventing children placed in state-licensed foster homes from being sexually abused and agreed to provide an oversight team to double-check every completed child abuse investigation to prevent some children’s allegations from slipping through the systematic cracks. Unfortunately, it will not be enough.
Combating sexual abuse in the foster care system begins with implementation of increased background checks and screening tools to ensure that the individual applying to be a foster parent is indeed qualified to care for such vulnerable children. Far too often, corners are cut, red flags are missed, and children are placed with individuals who have a history, that if carefully investigated, would have revealed disqualifying information suggesting the foster parent should have never been licensed to begin with. It is imperative that the state and its private subcontracted agencies investigate potential foster parents’ prior criminal arrest reports during their adult life, all law enforcement records, and all allegations of sexual abuse against them to look for patterns and risk before granting them a license.
Nevertheless, Mr. Poppell’s acknowledgment of DCF’s failures to adequately assess child abuse allegations is a step in the right direction in combating Florida’s most horrific crime against children, child sexual abuse.