Thursday, August 3, 2017

Fear and loathing at Florida DCF

Compare the kind of worker the Florida Department of Children and Families fires to the kind it keeps

I’m just catching up with a story from late last year, reported by The Palm Beach Post, that perfectly sums up the dangerous, defensive and arrogant mindset of many child welfare agencies in general and the Florida Department of Children and Families in particular.

Tiffany Sicard left her children, ages six and three, in a car to rush into a CVS pharmacy and pick up a prescription for the younger child.  It was 85 degrees outside, but the car windows were partially open, the doors were unlocked and police said the children “did not appear to be in distress.”

That part about “police said” is due to the fact that when Sicard got back to the car, about fifteen minutes after leaving it, the police already were on the scene. They arrested Sicard and charged her with two counts of child neglect.

In some ways, Sicard’s case is similar to those in the searing New York Times story about foster care as the new Jane Crow.  One of those ways: Sicard is Black.  Indeed, a study found in those rare cases where leaving children in a car leads to tragedy, prosecution is far more likely if the adult who left the children in the car is poor – which means he or she also is proportionately more likely to be African-American.

But here’s where Sicard’s story is different: Her job at the time. Sicard was, heself, a child abuse investigator for the Florida Department of Children and Families.  So even though the State’s Attorney’s office decided not to pursue the charges, DCF fired her.  Because Sicard was not, herself, a perfect parent, DCF declared that “your credibility will be subject to questioning and is of concern.”

DCF’s response also was almost certainly motivated by two other considerations:

● Sicard happened to be assigned to a case that involved a horrific tragedy. She was given the case only after the tragedy, she had no involvement in the failings that led up to it. But just the fact that her name was in some way connected with it may have made her bosses scared.

● Those bosses scare easily. DCF is in the midst of one of the nation’s worst foster-care panics, with leadership that makes its every move based on what the Miami Herald will write next. As is documented in detail in this blog in general (the latest case in point: yesterday’s post about the Florida child abuse hotline) in effect, the Herald is running child welfare in Florida – and it’s run Florida child welfare into the ground.

But what is in some ways even worse than who DCF chose to fire is who DCF chose to keep on.

During the incident involving Sicard, the Post reports, “another DCF employee, Amanda Voice, arrived on the scene and tried to take one of the children,” according to a police report.
Police objected – not because they necessarily opposed separating the child from her mother but because the child was part of the investigation. Voice agreed to leave, but then an officer asked Voice for identification.

According to the police report, Voice replied that because she was a DCF investigator “I don’t have to give you anything.” 

Think about that for a moment. If she’s willing to talk that way to the police, imagine how she treats defenseless families.

Since police are not defenseless, Voice was arrested on a charge of obstructing justice.  As with Sicard, the charges against Voice were dropped.  Unlike Sicard, Voice was not fired.

So to review: One DCF caseworker makes a serious mistake in her own child rearing – but a mistake which, were everyone who did it arrested, would overwhelm our jails and significantly reduce the population on many streets.  (Before anyone gets on her or his high horse abut Ms. Sicard’s error, I recommend reading the comment from “LF” that I posted here.)  She was fired.

The other caseworker on the other hand, apparently failed to switch from her I-work-for-child-protective-services-so-I-can-treat-people-like-dirt-and-there-nothing-you-can-do-about-it tone to her these-are-cops-I-should-be-polite tone. She was not fired.

UPDATE: A Twitter follower alerts me to the fact Amanda Voice isn't just a caseworker for DCF - she's a supervisor.