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Report: ChildNet Broward is failing, ‘urgent’ need to fix county’s child welfare system

By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org childnet

Burdened with high caseloads and mired in millions of dollars in debt, the lead agency in Broward’s child welfare system is failing.

That’s the gist of a 15-page state task force report obtained by FloridaBulldog.org about ChildNet Broward, the nonprofit that received $67 million from Florida’s Department of Children & Families (DCF) this year to provide community-based child welfare services.

Underscoring what the report called the “urgent” need for corrective action, about 80 leaders from various agencies and other community stakeholders met on June 7 to review the current system of care and begin to figure out how to fix it. The meeting and the report, however, were not publicly announced.

The state’s 11-member “Risk Pool Review Committee” began its review of ChildNet after it sought additional state funds last winter to cover a $7.6-million deficit. ChildNet’s deficit grew to $8.2 million by the time the report was submitted to DCF Secretary Mike Carroll on March 28.

“The analysis identified several factors that are placing considerable strain on Broward County’s child welfare agencies which must be addressed quickly,” Carroll said in an email announcing the June 7 meeting at the department’s Broward office at 1400 West Commercial Blvd. in Fort Lauderdale. The meeting’s goal: to “reach agreement on a comprehensive action plan,” Carroll wrote.

Carroll declined to be interviewed, but State Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, said Monday that no comprehensive action plan was adopted at the meeting.

“They’re reviewing everything,” said Sobel, who chairs the Senate Committee on Children, Families and Elder Affairs. “The real problem that came into focus at this meeting was the judiciary. They don’t have enough judges to go through these cases in an expeditious and efficient manner.”

ChildNet President and CEO Emilio Benitez

ChildNet President and CEO Emilio Benitez

Broward Chief Judge Peter Weinstein, however, announced at the meeting that he would add two child dependency judges in the coming weeks, Sobel said.

Judge Hope Tieman Bristol, chair of the juvenile dependency division, did not response to repeated requests for comment.

The task force recommended ChildNet be given the extra funds, “contingent on their agreement to develop a corrective action plan,” including making sure abuse cases are appropriately entered into the Florida Safe Families Network database to improve state oversight.

Report ‘absolutely accurate’

ChildNet President/CEO Emilio Benitez, who called the task force report “absolutely accurate,” said Tuesday that Secretary Carroll approved $6.1 million, but the money has yet to be disbursed.

“It reduces the deficit significantly,” Benitez said.

The grant funds are to come from a $13 million state Risk Pool established by the Legislature to mitigate the financial risk to eligible “lead” child welfare agencies in communities around the state.

ChildNet Broward operates under a five-year contract with DCF. In its application for Risk Pool funding, ChildNet cited “staggering increases” in the number of at-risk children entering the county’s child welfare system. There were 3,601 dependent children in the system on Jan. 10, 2016 – the most since 2004 – and 1,287 more than on January 2014, ChildNet said.

“A major contributor has clearly been similarly record-setting increases in the number of children removed (from at-risk homes) by the Broward Sheriff’s Office Child Protective Investigators,” the application says. Nearly 1,400 children were removed in 2015.

Curiously, the task force reported that the removal rate in Broward, a county where the rate of child poverty is below the state average, was 7.8 per 100 children investigated last summer, compared to the statewide rate of 6.4 per 100 children investigated.

The committee, comprised of 11 child welfare experts from around the state, concluded that ChildNet’s ballooning caseloads are the result of both increased removals and fewer discharges from care, “leading to a significant increase in the number of children in out-of-home care.”

The background to those trends has been a decline in core services funds between 2010 and 2015. The result: “higher costs and declining quality,” the task force report said.

The report cited a “robust array of both governmental and private organizations” exist to address child welfare, including the Children Services Council that spends millions in tax dollars on prevention and diversion services targeted to children in the system. “But ChildNet needs to develop in-home services for unsafe children and for safety management to help alleviate some of the removals,” the report says.

Broward’s splintered child welfare system

The report was also critical of the splintered structure of Broward’s child welfare system.

“The responsibility for essential components of the system of care is spread among several different entities including the Broward Sheriff’s Office for the Child Protective Investigation function, the Office of the Attorney General for the Children’s Legal Services function and the Lead Agency (ChildNet) for child welfare functions,” the report says. “Unless there is a strong sense of community ownership of the child welfare system of care, different organizations may be accountable for part of the system but effective management of the overall system can suffer.”

Current trends “indicate that ChildNet is not on a path of longer term sustainability,” the report says. Risk Pool funding will avoid service disruptions this year, but without a “significant infusion of resources” ChildNet “is likely to experience a significant deficit next fiscal year.”

Still, Benitez was optimistic about ChildNet’s future.

“We have made a tremendous impact since the report and I think we are now heading in the right direction,” he said. “All the partners are now working together to find a solution.”

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Latest comments

  • Shame on all involved. One more example of fiscal and leadership dysfunction impacting the lives of children.

  • Is this supposed legislative oversight? With a CEO, CFO, and a newly hired COO, this top heavy organization can not be sustained on the backs of the lowly child advocates and middle management, whom have been asked to take cuts in salary and benefits while the fat cats at the top grow their own personal wealth. Why doesn’t somebody look at why all of the best talent and workers have left this organization, like rats from a sinking ship of fools.

    ChildNet and the privatization has led to more child deaths, lack of services for families which should have been preserved through services, and the destruction of due process by malicious and false prosecutions. If this was any other business in America, this management would have resigned or been fired long ago. Broward’s head of CLS is married to one of the head attorneys at ChildNet. Conflict of interest … well that is just one example of the problem.

    Hiring a COO from a failed CBC in Miami-Dade County, who oversaw a group home that is accused of human trafficking of children in foster care is just an example of another. Where is the accountability? What has been done since the Miami Herald’s Innocence Lost Project? How many of these people have lost their jobs, been demoted, or even been written up for these transgressions?

    Maybe Sen Sobel needs to hold some legislative hearings on the CBCs and DCF, in order to get some answers on how the money is being mismanaged and why so many children have died while either in the DCF’s care or under investigation. How many Blue Ribbon reports, investigatory panels, and daily news reports will take to figure out that the Department of Covering up Failures refuses to change. The numbers of child deaths in the county are unbelievable and it will never change, until the State of Florida holds these people accountable.

  • Perhaps it’s time for accountability. Emilio Benitez should immediately resign, and more investigation into the other Broward Children’s agencies, tax-payer funded who enjoy cream of the crop benefits and pay and provide next to nothing in helping the children of Florida.

  • Child net is a disaster and conglomeration of clueless individuals whom have no clue about children. Why are the case workers driving around I’m Mercedes Benz if the deficit is so bad? They are a nightmare to deal with and have zero intentions of helping families rather than treating struggling families as if they are criminals. I welcome anyone to contact me to hear of the horrors they put families through, virtually placing more burdens and stress on people already struggling to stay afloat.

  • Your guys ruin family that not abuse so nothing to child funny you guys told I rats I don’t have but child net does. So everyone kid in non safe place child net be shut down. I am majors I have radio host talk childnet. You not you homework! Name is fake any One dealing childnet email me drums10601@gmail.com

    Facebook group stopchildnet

  • Billions more than HRS/DCF cost and the same old story…..big fat lobbyists and vendors reaping the profits…

  • My son is one of child nets victims.
    They have refused to advocate on my baby’s best interests to be free from the abuse , neglect, and repeat abandonment his father has bestowed upon him.
    These idiots have forced me, the provider and nurterr of the child, also a victim of the father, to attend counseling while they permit the father to continue to abuse the child, the father who has repeatedly violated a cpo, stolen the child’s identity for money making purposes, and Tue father has tested

  • tested positive for crack cocaine.
    These people have not once in the last four years even attempted to enforce any sort of child support, proof of residency or employment for the absent father, and Every time I tell them or have put in writing g his absurd of my child or provide police report numbers or give them evidence, these people just like the court just sit there while the father accused me of being at fault for the crimes he commits against me, my child, and our government.
    I have repeatedly called the supervisors

  • And the CEO of this agency and gave been doing so for the last three years.
    These people don’t give a rats behind about my kid, about him being killed he his father.
    They ignore everything I say.
    And allow a crack smoking drunk driver, with a criminal history of battery, dui, felony breaking and entering domestic violence, who now owes over 7000 in back support to continue to cancel his visits with the child he declared in court he no longer wants

  • We have been in the court system for three years now. It took these people three years to drug test this guy
    After he tested positive they said oh well.
    As long as he isn’t using during visits
    Are u kidding me?
    And they’ve made me go and get ten different mental health Evaluations and allow the dad to keep calling bso and allege I’m mentally ill and my kids abused and they go to his school and take his clothes off
    Are u kidding me
    The state of Florida is a nightmare
    Ita no wonder your crime rates are so high
    No wonder the death from crimes are so high.
    And no wonder so many people in your communities are on drugs. And mentally ill.
    I majored in a ba in psychology w certification in aba therapy in autism w young kids.
    I’m also a personal trainer and don’t drink or smoke or use any sort of drugs
    I spent my entire pregnancy hiking thru the Caribbean mountains for the fresh air swimming in the sea working maintaining a gorgeous mountain top artist loft.
    I am from a military officer war hero family.
    Are you people kidding me?
    To say you are all a joke is an understatement
    A complete and utter waste of tens of millions of dollars a year is the only way to say it.
    I am also a former victim of child again the neglect do the child protection system.
    You should all be fired

  • Sorry former victim of child abuse and neglect of your protection system.
    You should all also face prosecution for your crimes
    Lazy is no excuse

  • My truths have all been put in writing both to Tue sheriff Sept and to your court systems

  • My last question to Diane Rufus was what do u mean u can’t protect my son from a crack smoker
    What do u mean my son has no right to be physically protected from a drunken crack smoker who has never provide anything for his son and told his son and the court he doesn’t want his son.
    My baby boy tells me mommy, daddy makes me sick to my stomach, mommy daddy is scary mommy daddy makes me fall.
    And u tell me if I don’t allow my son to visit with his dad I will go to jail.
    If my son refuses u will let me in jail.
    What kind kid humans are u anyways

  • What exactly do u get paid to do
    Sit at your desk
    Drive a paid for car
    Earn 59 grand a year
    Abuse women and children

  • And let me just say Richard you are the biggest hypocrite
    You are currently representing my ex-husband and child abuser in the juvenile court
    With absolute knowledge

  • I am dealing now with a nightmare. I was falsely accused of possible child abuse and neglect was inferred after I told BSO CPIS and Hollywood PD from day they came to my door I kept asking my daughter’s father for her things I bought and mother bought. It was like they wanted to ignore my pleas for help against a manipulator. Then my CPIS investigator Ms. Bayer’s was told about abuse at the home they sheltered my child at and was told that would be deemed retaliation. Then initial case worker Ketly some Haitian- American Case Manager did a horrible job with never calling me back then she just hands case over to my now better Case Manager Nounouche I feel is being made a scapegoat in this mess. Like they want her to be blamed for things BSO investigation did not take into account. Then the passing the buck. The only competent ones are the judges but even there lies were accepted. I just feel each agency is “Passing The Buck”. Instead of look at Police reports filed days prior asking for help against an manipulative abuser, I got put into ChildNet whom put blame of investigation on BSO whom put Home Study on Miami and all is so head spinning as to how in heck the system works. I am made to look stupid when months later my date of birth is wrong. Domestic Violence cases, police reports I am able to get were not part of investigation that would raise red flags as to possible false reporting. It is discouraging and hope someone finally really does an investigation more than take my info to them share it with others. I am concerned about my privacy too.

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