Stats reveal problem for Blacks in Miamis child welfare system

caines | 7/4/2012, 5:30 a.m.

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Blacks in foster care top 60 percent

Black children are disproportionately represented in every level of the child welfare system, both in Florida and in the U.S. But recent statistics reveal an even worse situation for kids in Miami-Dade County. While Black children compromise 23 percent of the child population in Miami, they represent 60 percent of those youth in foster care. Statewide, they make up 33 percent of the foster care population. Additional numbers are even more disconcerting. In child abuse investigations, Black children are 29 percent of the victims statewide and 42 percent of the victims in Miami. And while every child in foster care hopes to leave institutional facilities for the more stable environment of a home, there just arent enough Black families to keep up with the growing number of children in the system. Only 32 percent of fosters homes in Miami are Black. These troubling statistics have prompted the Florida Department of Children and Families [DCF] to make reducing the disproportionate numbers their top priority. In an unprecedented move, DCF recently announced a community partnership with the Urban League of Greater Miami to address the problem. This is not about whats wrong with DCF this is about finding ways to change these numbers, said T. Willard Fair, president/CEO, Urban League of Greater Miami. We need to do a careful analysis so we can determine why so many Black children are being funneled into and remaining in the foster care system. Only then can we begin to talk about ways that things can and should be done differently. But I stress, this is a critique of what our community has to do to improve the lives of our children.

Scandals plague welfare system

Recent arrests spearheaded by the State Attorneys Office exacerbate the challenges that DCF and the Urban League face. In the first case, arrest warrants have been served for Eric George Earle, Jr., Willie Clavin Bivens, Anturell Nathaniel Dean and David Zarifi. They have been charged with numerous counts including racketeering, maintaining a house of prostitution and human trafficking of minors their victims are all young girls that are part of the foster care system. The second case and subsequent arrest happened last weekend. Officials were able to capture Jean Lacroix a DCF protective investigator from Palm Beach County that allegedly was engaged in consensual sexual intercourse with a juvenile who was under DCF custody. State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle says these cases point to the need for the entire community to keep their ears and eyes open for things that look suspicious and to report them. We want to get men like those recently arrested off the streets but its a constant battle, she said. We are confident that well be able to put them behind bars for a long time but the young girls that were taken advantage of will need a lot of supportive services including counseling before they can begin to truly heal. So many of these young girls have been abandoned and feel all alone. Weve got to do more for them. David Wilkins, secretary for Florida DCF says the new partnership formed with the Urban League will directly confront the issue of child abuse and neglect. This grassroots effort will be successful where others may have failed because we are targeting the Liberty City community and bringing services here, he said. In the past, we have had to shuttle children all over the County or State to provide them with needed services. One thing we want to do over the next 12 months, is have local forums so that we can breakdown the myths associated with the child welfare system. We need more Black families to participate because we have a disproportionate number of Black children who need families but their arent enough to go around. And we have to break down barriers so that its easier for willing and capable Black families to take foster children into their homes. Fair says the numbers associated with Black children in foster care should not be tolerated by the community. Blacks should be outraged at these numbers, he said. The data points to how we care for our own kids. That means that its time for some serious self-examination. Anything we can do to save our children is a positive step, said County Commissioner Audrey Edmonson. We need to keep our children within their own communities in places with which they are familiar. More than that, we must stop depending on other folks to solve our problems. Miami Gardens Mayor Shirley Gibson agrees. We must take ownership for the problems we now face and its up to us to come up with viable solutions, she said. We have to look at current public policies and the way we handle challenges within the child welfare system. Everyone is saying it but I say too that these are our children. If anyone is going to help them it must be us. By D. Kevin McNeirkmcneir@miamitimesonline.com