Florida Responds To Reports Of Child Abuse And Neglect

Interim Secretary Esther Jacobo of the Florida Department of Children and Families responds to Tell Me More's recent conversation on child abuse and neglect in the state.

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Now we'd like to update you on a story that aired on this program last Friday. We heard from the Miami Herald about its investigative series called "Innocence Lost." Reporters there documented nearly 500 children who had some contact with Florida's Department of Children and Families and later died of abuse or neglect. My colleague Jennifer Ludden spoke with writer Audra Burch about how so many children fell through the cracks at the agency.

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JENNIFER LUDDEN, BYLINE: These are cases where the families had been reported, sometimes multiple times, right?

AUDRA BURCH: Correct. You know, it runs the gambit. You have cases where, you know, the initial prior is not nearly as serious as what ends up happening to the child. But then you have cases that are on the other end of the spectrum in which there were multiple, multiple reports that indicated that, you know, in assessing it, you would think that the child was at risk.

MARTIN: We reached out to Florida's Department of Children and Families for a response to our conversation. And Interim Secretary Esther Jacobo spoke with us earlier today. Here's part of her response.

ESTHER JACOBO: It is true that we have missed red flags in the past. So, you know, I would agree that we have not, in the past, done a great job at determining risk of future maltreatment. Even before the cluster of deaths that first brought media attention, we had begun implementing what's called a safety methodology and then the risk-assessment tool that is evidence-based. And the high-risk families, we know that we need to have some intervention or the probability is that they will come back with a future maltreatment, whether that's death or something else. And so that's one huge thing that we're in the middle of implementing right now across the state.

MARTIN: That was Esther Jacobo. She is interim secretary of Florida's Department of Children and Families. And she joined us from her office in Miami. To hear the full conversation about the Miami Herald's "Innocence Lost" report, please visit our program page at NPR.org/TELLMEMORE.

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