Fla. Has Lost Hundreds of Foster Kids

ByABC News via logo
May 16, 2002, 9:04 AM

May 16 -- As Florida Gov. Jeb Bush signed a new law intended to protect foster children Wednesday, ABCNEWS' Good Morning America discovered there are hundreds of kids who have been lost by the state's child-welfare system.

The governor signed the bill in response to the case of 5-year-old Rilya Wilson the foster child who was missing for more than one year before anyone noticed.

Circuit Court Judge Jeri Cohen, who testified Wednesday before governor's blue-ribbon panel examining the state's performance in Rilya's disappearance, told Good Morning America that most of the state's missing children are older than Rilya.

"The vast number, I would estimate, of those children are teenagers between the ages of 12 and 18, who chronically cycle in and out of the foster-care system," she said.

Lying and Cover-ups

New evidence of falsified reports and cover-ups within the state's Department of Children and Families was released Wednesday in videotaped depositions of current and former caseworkers.

Attorneys suing the agency released portions of the depositions, which detailed problems ranging from failure to visit children to removing children from their homes and placing them in abusive foster homes, as part of a lawsuit against the state.

Dr. George Rahaim of the Department of Children and Families said there should be no confusion about the inadequacies that exist in Florida's foster-care system.

"It has gotten worse over time," Rahaim said in his videotaped deposition. "It is worse now, in my opinion, that it ever has been."

Rahaim said some caseworkers decide not to actively visit their assigned foster kids on a regular basis. "Life goes easier for that worker who leaves the child at risk in the home, as long as nothing spectacular happens," he said.

Sandra Owen, a former program administrator at the state agency, also described widespread lying by state workers about required monthly visits to foster homes.

"I have heard of foster-care counselors that I will not hire, you know, when the opportunity arises to be the lead agency, who have reported that they have seen 100 percent of their children and that's not true," she said in her videotaped deposition.