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Grand Jury Decries DCF Cover-Up

While the Florida Department of Children and Families has made some progress in revving up child protection, a Miami-Dade grand jury says DCF is guilty of trying to hide information from the public, the Miami Herald reports.

The 30-page presentment confirmed the Herald’s earlier report that the agency artificially reduced the number of children reported to have died under DCF supervision by revising the definition of “neglect.”

The Broward office of DCF also withheld a list of deaths from the official total when it knew that Herald reporters were working on stories about the child deaths, published in the spring as Innocents Lost. The agency gave the supervisor two days’ suspension.

Last week, a DCF official who was assigned to investigate that matter said there were no public records -- no documents, no e-mails -- when the Herald requested them.

The grand jury, which focused on earlier events, found the agency’s effort to hide mistakes deeply troubling. 

“The public does not have confidence in the accuracy of the number of child deaths reported,” the report said.

Meanwhile, the chair of a powerful Senate committee is calling for an independent review of DCF’s penchant for withholding information, the News Service of Florida reports. The request from state Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, comes a day after Gov. Rick Scott signed the bill she sponsored to overhaul the state's child-welfare system. 

Meanwhile, DCF Interim Secretary Mike Carroll is pointing to the agency’s new website, which launched Wednesday and lists information about child deaths, as a step forward in transparency. 

Originally founded in December 2006 as an independent grassroots publication dedicated to coverage of health issues in Florida, Health News Florida was acquired by WUSF Public Media in September 2012.