Posted on Tue, May. 14, 2002
This was written in 2002 about the corruption – abuse and greed by Miami Dade DCF- The panel that finished their investigation said the same thing last week. It seems nothing has changed at all. It is still business as usual in DCF – to compound the problem now we have privitized it and more people are claiming they were not to blame. Everyone is to blame- there is more than enough to go around. When will the murdering of our children in slavery stop?
Child agency loses appeal
DCF must reveal where sister lives
BY CAROL MARBIN MILLER AND ELAINE DE VALLE
As a panel of community leaders continued on Monday to look for ways to improve Florida’s troubled child welfare system, the Department of Children & Families lost an important court battle that may alter the balance of power between the agency and judges who oversee foster children.
The Third District Court of Appeal in Miami ruled on Monday that Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Cindy Lederman has the right to know where the sister of Rilya Wilson is living. Last week, the DCF’s chief Miami attorney refused to tell the judge, saying the agency had ”sole authority” over where certain foster children live.
With the appeal court’s ruling, Lederman is free to hold another hearing — a previous one was abruptly canceled last week — to discuss the details of Rodericka Wilson’s care. The 2-year-old girl was taken from two caregivers two weeks ago after it was discovered that her sister, Rilya, had disappeared.
The ruling could have far-reaching consequences as well: Lederman and the DCF have more than once engaged in a tug of war over children in state care, and other judges, including one in Broward County, have been increasingly active in overseeing the work of DCF caseworkers, and the department as a whole.
The tension between Lederman and the agency that surfaces regularly in her courtroom erupted last week when the judge said a foster care counselor had lied to her — both in writing and in person — for perhaps 16 months regarding the well-being of 5-year-old Rilya Wilson.
Though the counselor, Deborah Muskelly, had assured her that Rilya was well cared for and attending a day-care center, the judge said, the child actually was missing since at least January 2001.
Rilya’s caretakers, a woman who identifies herself as the child’s grandmother and another who says she is a great-aunt, have said Rilya was taken by a DCF employee in January 2001 for a psychological evaluation. Miami police announced last week, however, that both women showed signs of deception in polygraph examinations.
Lederman insisted at the hearing last week that she has the ”ultimate responsibility” for children over whose cases she presides. She said she could not protect children if workers hid information from her.
The DCF’s top Miami official, Charles Auslander, said he could not discuss the appeal court’s ruling.
During a four-hour panel hearing at Miami-Dade Community College’s Wolfson Campus on Monday, two speakers said they, too, had experienced difficulties with DCF caseworkers.
Joni Goodman, who heads the guardian ad litem program in Miami, a $1.9 million effort that provides lay advocates, social workers and attorneys for about 65 percent of the Miami-Dade children in state care, said foster care counselors often display contempt for guardians who disagree with them.
”There is a culture in the department of disrespect for guardians ad litem,” said Goodman. ”It is my belief, with the experience of 20 years in the guardian ad litem program, that the higher up you go in the department, the more understanding and respect you get concerning” guardians.
”At the line level, there is an adversarial relationship, sort of a bunker mentality,” Goodman said. “We find ourselves often fighting with department lawyers.”
Trudy Petkovich, a foster mother who also mentors other foster parents, said she, too, had experienced problems on occasion when dealing with caseworkers.
‘They will say, `If you make waves, we’ll just have to remove the kid,’ ” said Petkovich. “I’m sorry to say, that’s intimidation. And there’s no place for counselors to intimidate foster parents.”
For the most part, Monday’s meeting of the governor’s blue ribbon panel on child protection prompted little controversy.
Petkovich and Michael Millsap, who adopted five foster children with his wife, Juli, spoke passionately of the dedication and sacrifice of foster parents and adoptive parents who often take troubled, difficult children into their homes. They said most of the DCF counselors with whom they have worked were cooperative and caring.
As they have in previous meetings, DCF officials displayed charts and graphs aimed at showing that the department has made significant progress in recent years. Kearney said bad publicity surrounding incidents such as Rilya’s disappearance casts a pall on an agency that has made great strides.
Panelists also heard testimony from a child protection caseworker and a supervisor who described in detail what their days are like.
”I am like this right now,” said caseworker Reggie Horton, showing his hands shaking, “because I have no guarantee for any home I send a child to.”
Gov. Jeb Bush brought up Rilya’s case during a campaign speech to the Miami City Club on Monday, saying that he would embrace the blue ribbon panel’s recommendations “if they make sense.”
”We will move quickly if there are systemic problems in the department,” he said.
Bush, in his first mention of the child’s name at a purely political event, asked business leaders to think about her “from the perspective of being a mom or a dad.”
Meantime, tipsters have reported spotting Rilya in several different places, from the southwestern United States to the Bahamas, police said.
After nearly two weeks without leads, a segment on America’s Most Wanted Saturday night seems to have caused a flurry of tips over the weekend from callers who think they may have seen the 5-year-old, said Miami-Dade police Sgt. John Roper.
The Bahamas tip is particularly interesting, because detectives have asked authorities in that country to assist them in locating the relatives of Geralyn Graham, the woman with whom Rilya lived when she disappeared.
”Callers may have seen a child that looked like Rilya,” said Roper, who heads the Miami-Dade Crime Stoppers unit.
He said all the leads were passed on to homicide investigators.
Herald staff writer Peter Wallsten contributed to this report.
© 2001 miamiherald and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.