In an unusually swift manner that bucks the common practice of secrecy characterizes most child welfare agencies, the Florida Department of Children and Families has established a Web site devoted to giving a full and public accounting of the circumstances surrounding the death of a child in state care.
From a detailed timeline to concessions that mistakes were made in handling the case, the website contains an abundance of information concerning the death of 7-year-old Gabriel Myers, who reportedly hung himself in the shower of his foster parents' home in Margate. The child's death followed a series of placements that broke down and decisions to administer psychotropic medication without parental consent or judicial approval.
The Florida Department of Children and Families is currently conducting a review of all foster children in its care who have been prescribed medications to make sure there is parental consent or a court order. That report will be posted on the website when it is complete.
Child welfare reform advocates say it's rare for child welfare agencies to post information as comprehensive as the website on the Gabriel Myers case.
"It's very unusual for a child welfare agency to tell the public this much about a case where a child 'known to the system' died, but it's not unheard-of," says Richard Wexler, executive director of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform, based in Alexandra, Va.
"This much candor is rare in itself," Wexler said. "But I've never before seen an agency make the information so accessible."
Wexler noted that the website even includes links to news stories critical of the agency.
"It's one more sign that a child welfare agency once synonymous with failure has turned the corner and is making real improvements," Wexler said. "And when it comes to candor, Florida DCF is now the national leader."