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Why children die – Part 1: If everybody’s responsible, nobody’s responsible

Lauryn Martin-Everett

“Foster care kids are our kids. They are our kids,” said Boca Raton Democratic Sen. Kevin Rader in support of legislation making it easier for youth in state custody to obtain a driver’s license.

You hear that line a lot — a lot — from “leadership” at the Department of Children & Families (DCF), and from the flacks who wear the skirts behind which “leadership” hides. It means nothing. It means less than nothing.

Latest case in point: Lauryn Martin-Everett. The 16-year-old spent half her life as one of “our kids” before hanging herself by the neck until dead in a “children’s shelter” which gets money from the “community-based care” which gets money from the DCF which gets money from the state legislature to “parent” tens of thousands of infants, toddlers and teens in “out-of-home care.”

Lauryn had looks and style and a high wattage smile. She got good grades, ran track, and went out for cheerleading. We know all that because the Miami Herald tracked down Lauryn’s 29-year-old sister, Whitley Rodriguez. It was Whitley who paid for her little sister’s athletic gear and school clothes, and otherwise kept track of Lauryn, both dreaming of the day that they could do what sisters do without having to beg for permission from publicly funded parents like the Florida Keys Children’s Shelter. Prior to Lauryn’s suicide, the “shelter” was best known as a good place for a pimp to find employment as a “mentor to at-risk” kids and a trolling ground for sex traffickers in search of fresh meat.

Only God and DCF would know why Whitley was not among the state’s candidates to provide Lauryn a “forever” home. Whitley speculates that she could not have passed the “home study” because she didn’t have a driver’s license.

DCF’s “leadership” is not talking, but thanks to what little is left of Florida’s public records law, we know that the state adopted Lauryn out to some “forever family” that later returned her in a fit of buyer’s remorse.

This happens more than you might think. Florida spends millions to get foster children off the state’s books by marketing them with the same techniques used to market politicians and consumer products. Those mass adoptions create regular opportunities to obtain “positive stories” from the organizations DCF loves to refer to as “our media partners,” but not everyone lives happily ever after.

Florida has never paid more than lip service to the idea of recruiting and retaining the kind of highly competent, highly qualified social workers who would not, on their worst day, be fooled or bullied into letting infamous child abusers like Jorge and Carmen Barahona adopt a goldfish, let alone four of “our kids.”

Ours is a system where everybody is responsible, which is just another way of saying that nobody’s responsible. It is a Tower of Babel, and Florida is decades past due to rethink it from the ground up.

Written By

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

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