Who is Responsible for an Abused Child?

Who is Responsible for an Abused Child?

Longtime residents of the Sunshine State bristle at the notion that we don’t have seasons here. Just because our trees’ leaves don’t turn various shades of yellow, orange and red in the fall, and just because residents don’t turn blue from December to March, doesn’t mean we don’t have seasons.

We have the season of hot and humid (late May to early October here in the Tampa Bay area), when prudent and generally well-off residents negotiate the day from air-conditioned home to air-conditioned vehicle to air-conditioned place of employment and back again . . . perhaps adding an almost-cool evening on the deck at some waterside watering hole. Then we have the perfect season, from early October to mid-May, when, except for occasional stormy weather and a few evenings crisp enough to put a spring in our step, the weather is practically flawless for anything one might want to do outdoors . . . even (for those silly Northerners) lying out on the beach.

But there are other seasons, attached more to the activities of humans than the activities of nature.

Like the recurrent season of recriminations over the deaths of children from abuse.

During one such season, when five children died while under state supervision for suspected abuse in a span of a couple of weeks, I was attending a media workshop for municipal elected officials. Our trainer was the incomparable Ron Sachs. Ron was working us through defining and articulating a clear message . . . our message . . . during a combative news interview.

I failed the test.

Ron found out about my own experiences with children in foster care, and charged right into a provocative question about “what are you going to do about all of these kids dying?”

I knew too much to be glib. We had to settle for merely adequate.

Who is responsible when a child suffers because of

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abuse?

Without question, the abuser is responsible. As state Senator Joe Negron (R-Stuart) recently framed it for the Miami Herald, “The responsibility for these acts perpetrated against children rests 100 percent with the perpetrator.” So we’re going to after abusers by spending more money to fund additional child protective investigators and related investigative activity. That may well be a good thing.

But . . . suppose, now, that the increased number of CPIs effectively identifies more kids who are at risk in their homes. Let’s imagine, as well we might, that more kids get pulled from their families of origin, temporarily or permanently, because of our desire to protect them.

Where will they go? Who will be responsible for protecting these vulnerable kids?

Generally speaking, Florida does not have a surplus of empty foster home beds awaiting these kids. Foster parenting isn’t for the timid, and it isn’t a job (because you never get to go home and leave it behind).

Most foster parents (especially the good ones) are foster parents because of their great love for these kids and their desire to play a part in helping them build productive, happy lives. But just like the best teachers, nurses, doctors, police officers and so forth, all are “best” in part because they love their work and the mission it fulfills, they still need financial support. So it’s not just having enough folks qualified and interested in fostering; it’s also about supporting them. And the proposed budget for the state does not include additional funds to support additional kids in foster care and the additional services they will require.

Services, you might ask?

Yes. Mental health care, for one (which may include both counseling and possibly medication). Many foster families don’t have insurance plans that provide the kind of mental health coverage these kids often require (though perhaps the mental health care insurance coverage mandate under ACA will change that). Of course, these kids often qualify for Medicaid, but the Legislature says that’s a broken program, so we obviously can’t rely upon it to address these kids’ critical mental health needs.

Abuse also may have had physical consequences, at a minimum due to neglect, that may require some additional care, at least for a period of time. There may be additional doctor and dentist bills. There’s something else we need to cover . . . and it’s not in the budget.

On the school front, these kids often will need remediation. As Maslow understood so well, when one is worrying about surviving the night, one tends to be less focused on higher-order goals like education during the day. Once their lives have some stability in foster care (if that happens, which it doesn’t always), these kids often need additional help to catch up. Not in the budget.

So . . . who will be responsible for meeting the needs of these abused kids?

We, as a society, may not be responsible for the abuse, but if we are serious about protecting children, then we probably are going to be responsible for the care of abused children. Punish the abuser if you like, but then the child is without a home. And we are responsible for that fact, even if it was the right thing to do.

4 Responses to Who is Responsible for an Abused Child?

  • sjsweeney1115

    Amen, Scott!

  • Jim Frishe

    Good column. You obviously have enough experience with the issue to know there are few good choices, even in up revenue years. Now that the budget is done and available, how much would you add to each separate budget silo to cover the additional needs you cited? (I won’t ask the source, but assume it is recurring.) In order to get the Legislature to add funds next year, they need to see real numbers.

    • Dr. Scott Paine

      Good point, Jim. I don’t have that kind of data, but many of the involved agencies have provided information to guide the legislature on this in the future.

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