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Florida’s children live and die at the crowded corner of Dickens & Orwell, part 2

Naika Venant kept a journal and hoped one day to write a memoir. Instead, her life story will be told by the Miami Herald.

Eight of the paper’s most experienced reporters collaborated Tuesday to piece together the last hours of the last chapter of the 14-year-old foster child’s life.  But it was old news to the thousand people who watched in real time on Facebook as Naika hung herself by the neck until dead.

An all-star cast of usual suspects showed up to say all the usual things.

Department of Children & Families (DCF) Secretary Mike Carroll is “horrified and devastated.”  There will, of course, be a multidisciplinary investigation.  He’s committed to “helping the family heal.”

Carroll can take that up with the birth mother’s lawyer, who kicked off his client’s healing process with a shock and awe news conference.

Soon to be heard from is the dependency court judge who ordered that Naika be shielded from social media and provided with intensive counseling.  Sure to come is a Herald lawsuit to gain access to the facts of Naika’s life, which included being raped in foster care. That was half a lifetime ago, when she was 7 years old.

Yesterday, House Appropriations Chairman Carlos Trujillo wondered aloud: ” … how much appetite do we have to be disciplined financially? We’ve been led by Republicans for the last 20 years, and we spend like Democrats.”

Indeed. High on the list of stupid money Florida spends is the millions it takes to support its web of confidentiality laws written decades before parents decided it was OK for 14-year-olds to sleep with their smartphones. There’s a bipartisan consensus that it’s a good use of money to “protect the privacy” of children like Naika, as if their families, teachers, neighbors, grocery store clerks, and Facebook friends don’t know who they are, and why they’re “in care.”

Today and every day, there are Naikas and Nubias acting out, crying out, waiving their privacy “rights” and begging for help. There are professionals ready, willing and capable of providing meaningful help, court-ordered or otherwise.

What we lack is the willingness to take money out of the Department of Hollow Apologies and Reshuffling Deck Chairs and put it into the hands of professionals who can, for example, keep 7-year-olds away from rapists.

When Naika’s story is finally and fully told, we will see, yet again, that the only thing Florida’s privacy laws protect is a fiscally stupid and morally bankrupt status quo.

 

Written By

Florence Beth Snyder is a Tallahassee-based lawyer and consultant.

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