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August 15, 2013

It’s been a deadly time for children under the watch of the Florida Department of Children and Families and the community-based care or “lead” agencies charged with keeping kids safe.

Four children have died from abuse or neglect in the last three months. In the cases of 5-month-old Bryan Osceola, 2-year-old Ezra Raphael, 4-year-old Antwan Hope, and 1-year-old Fernando Barahona, DCF or its contracted agencies knew about threats to health or safety in the children’s homes. Yet, caseworkers and investigators approved visits or the children’s continued placement in dangerous settings. Some caseworkers falsified reports; some weren’t even certified to work for the agencies.

Now — finally — there’s hope that things may change. Embattled DCF Secretary David Wilkins recently resigned. He was replaced by Interim Secretary Esther Jacobo, who most recently served as DCF regional managing director for Miami-Dade and Monroe counties.

With Wilkins’ departure, child advocates hope for a return of the transparency, common sense, and sense of urgency infused into DCF during four years of significant, positive reforms under former DCF Secretaries Bob Butterworth and George Sheldon.

For example, during three years of his “reforms” — all with the goal of cutting DCF’s budget — Secretary Wilkins voluntarily eliminated key DCF quality assurance personnel. Without these watchdogs, DCF lost its eyes and ears regarding agency performance and couldn’t ensure kids were safe. Without oversight, DCF was blind, rudderless, and reactionary.

In my 25 years working with the state child protection system, I’ve never witnessed the spate of deaths we’ve seen this year.

Advocates now hope Ms. Jacobo, who worked under Secretaries Butterworth and Sheldon, will restore the agency’s transparency, common sense, and sense of urgency it once had. We hope she can regain the tools, manpower, and momentum lost after four years of agency improvement and help prevent future tragedies.

Howard M. Talenfeld
President of Florida’s Children First
Ft. Lauderdale

The Fourth Estate
At the Bar’s annual confab, Soledad O’Brien told judges and lawyers: “You are the division, I think, in a lot of ways, between people who will be successful and people who will not.”

I think, in a lot of ways, the establishment media of which O’Brien has played a part has been an instrument of division for too many years, promoting people who (they hope) will be successful and pummeling people who (they hope) will not.

Simply put, if you are politically liberal you are praised for being enlightening; conservative — razed for being frightening.

Auxiliary exams exist to determine if the establishment media will assist you. You or your organization must be for (1) the expansion of what takes (government) and the constriction of what makes (business); (2) more money for the collective and less for the individual (by way of taxes); (3) seeing society as a collection of factions engaged in groupthink rather than an assembly of individuals exercising free will; (4) hurting those on the top more than helping those on the bottom; (5) saving those on death row, but not those in the womb; (6) a philosophy that breaks down (European-style socialism) over one that builds up (American capitalism); and (7) explicit multiculturalism, as long as its inclusiveness does not include any mention of Christianity. Seven sins perpetuated by the corrupting Fourth Estate on our corroding United States.

When applying what O’Brien said about America to her own industry, the court of public opinion would strike from the record “justice and fairness are important” for assuming facts not in evidence.

Jeff Boston

We the People
The U.S. Supreme Court in Hollingsworth v. Perry (formerly Perry v. Brown and Perry v. Schwarzenegger) 570 U.S. __ (2013) held that sponsors of Proposition 8 did not have standing to appeal the judgment of the district court, and the Ninth Circuit was without jurisdiction to consider the appeal.

This Supreme Court of the United States decision sets bad precedent, because any law or constitutional provision can be overturned if the elected officials, who, like Gov. Jerry Brown and the California attorney general, do not uphold their oath of office and refuse to defend any law or constitutional provision implemented by the voice of the people.

Alexander Hamilton explained in The Federalist No. 84 at 513 that “government is created by the people, not existing independently, or in some respect over them.” The “government derives its just powers from the consent of the governed.” Therefore, if our elected and appointed officials refuse to uphold the laws/constitution “We the People” have no standing to defend the laws or constitutional provision.

To prevent this from happening in Florida, I propose broadening standing in a Florida constitutional amendment to allow “We the People — citizens of the State of Florida” to have standing to defend laws or constitutional provisions if the elected and appointed officials refuse to defend and uphold the laws or constitutional provisions. This should be done in Article I “Declaration of Rights.”

So, the end result is empowering “We the People” to defend any legislative or state constitutional provision when the elected or appointed officials refuse to uphold their oath.

Caroline S. A. Zoes

[Revised: 11-13-2017]