Still missing

Published: Friday, January 24, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 23, 2003 at 10:16 p.m.

It's been two years since little Rilya Wilson disappeared in Miami while supposedly under the supervision of state child welfare officials.

Her disappearance led to a shakeup of Florida's perennially troubled Department of Children & Families. But as The New York Times noted in a story this week, two years later, DCF is still "in crises."

"Caseworkers are still overburdened, hundreds of foster children are still missing, and the agency continues to struggle with a backlog of child-abuse investigations," The Times reported.

Not only that, but Rilya isn't the only one gone missing at DCF. Indeed, a lot of state child-abuse investigators have vanished as well.

This week, state legislators were told that staff turnover at the agency is so high that protecting Florida's children is "a job that is impossible to do."

How bad is the turnover? Well, child welfare agencies across the nation usually see between 15 percent and 19 percent of their investigators leave each year. In Florida, the annual turnover rate is 24 percent.


Well, nationally, the average child-abuse investigator handles a workload of about 17 cases. In Florida, the workload averages 41 cases.

Jerry Reiger, the new DCF chief, understands the case-load problem and has asked for $500 million more this year to hire 1,000 additional caseworkers.

Gov. Jeb Bush understands politics and wants to give Reiger just $138 million for 376 caseworkers.

And truth be told, Reiger wouldn't even get that much if Bush hadn't decided to raid the state's juvenile crime prevention budget (thus sacrificing teens for younger children) to come up with the money.

Reiger's problem is that protecting Florida's 45,000 children at risk is a tough, spirit-crushing job that demands long hours for low pay. Few people are willing to work under such conditions for very long - hence, DCF's high turnover rate.

With investigators going missing nearly as often as the children they are supposed to be protecting, DCF isn't going to solve its problems any time soon.

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