Nearly a decade ago, Florida’s Department of Children and Families (DCF) decided to reduce the number of children taken into care – by as much as 50 percent – under the guise of “family preservation.” The department’s funding was slashed and more children were left with violent, neglectful, or drug-addicted parents.
“[V]irtually every program that might have helped troubled children or families was cut, to some degree,” Carol Marbin Miller said, in response to questions about her findings. “By themselves, the cuts may not have proven to be as dangerous. But the results of dramatically reducing the number of kids removed – while simultaneously reducing services for the kids left behind – proved to be quite dangerous.”
Children were murdered, starved, beaten, and drowned. One little girl was mauled by a pet python, which her drug-addicted parents failed to house securely. The state underreported these deaths by as many as 39 cases per year, the investigation revealed.
“’Innocents Lost’ highlights the human cost of slashing social services,” said Sidney judge Lindsay Beyerstein. “The series also shows the deadly consequences of treating children as the property of their parents.”
The package features in-depth print coverage, web videos, and a searchable database with a profile of every child in Florida who died of abuse or neglect after contact with DCF from 2008 onwards.
Carol Marbin Miller is a member of the Herald’s investigative team. She is a two-time recipient of the National Newspaper Guild's Heywood Broun Award. She was awarded the Society of Professional Journalists' Eugene S. Pulliam First Amendment Award in 2012.
Audra D.S. Burch is an award-winning enterprise reporter for the Miami Herald. She covered the George Zimmerman and Casey Anthony trials for the paper. She has also written about pop culture, race relations, and consumer affairs. “Innocents Lost” is a production of the Miami Herald I-Team, which includes videographer and photographer Emily Michot, website and database producer Lazaro Gamio and investigations editor Casey Frank.