Unfunded mandates are nothing new in the state of Florida. Millions of dollars in budget cuts to child protection services, waivers supports, access to health care, etc. have all been passed on to already marginalized people. Sadly, the victims of these unfunded mandates are most often children and/or vulnerable adults with intellectual challenges. Of course, it is no surprise that predators target these groups because they are perceived as “weak” and unable to defend themselves – those about whom “no one really cares”. Accordingly, it is particularly shocking and offensive when the predators turn out to be the supervisors and surveyors charged with protecting the health and safety of our most vulnerable.
The apathy that allowed Homestead’s recent Foster Care Brothel “business” to flourish runs rampant through many state health and human service agencies. “Blanket” policy and procedures are created and only arbitrarily enforced with little thought to their true impact on human lives. For example, two weeks ago, APD Secretary Mike Hansen spoke at the Family Café Conference in Orlando and he applauded Florida’s Foster Care System while pitching his proposal that APD use Florida’s Foster Care System as the “model” for oversight. His statements are reflective of a much more pervasive issue… over-confidence and a lack of a historical perspective along with inadequate internal checks and balances.
To be clear, APD is a state agency that requires triplicate inspections, surveys and monitoring of its contracted service providers throughout the year. Why would APD need yet another level of oversight?!? Hansen’s statements are illogical. Without question, the original intent of APD’s surveys were accountability, but along the way the enforcement and review process has devolved into punitive and arbitrary measurements that unnecessarily penalize providers and caregivers for an inability to meet unfunded mandates. Many of the unfunded mandates are not even linked to protection and/or supports. It is a tale of two extremes, one in which position, power and pay insulate state employees from accountability and another in which private service providers are routinely micro-managed in the name of “safety” and “protection” to the detriment of available service dollars.
With that in mind, I would like to see the State use its own surveying standards when evaluating its employees. In the case of the DCF case worker who had failed Nubia Barahona, he would have never been provided the opportunity to victimize other children through his prostitution ring. Conversely, if a service provider routinely demonstrated exemplary service and care, the organization would not be held under a cloud of suspected fraud in perpetuity. Of course, if a service provider or internal employee demonstrates the inability to maintain the standards of the group, he/she/it would be removed or penalized and the situation would be open for effective resolution. In the words of renowned author, Maya Angelou, “when someone shows you who they are, believe them – the first time.”