Florida Must Shut Down Abusive Children’s Homes

Bruce Tuten

Target: David Wilkins, Florida Department of Children and Families Administrator

Goal: Stop allowing religious children’s homes to operate without government regulation

A recent investigation of religious children’s homes in Florida found several facilities in which children are being physically and sexually abused. These abusive homes are monitored by a religious agency instead of the state because of a law that was passed in the 1980s that allowed religious children’s homes to be exempt from state oversight. The law leaves these homes in the hands of a private organization with much lower standards than the state government. Religious children’s homes must be put back under the supervision of the state so that facilities allowing abuse will be closed, and the children will be placed in safer environments.

A number of children’s homes that were originally regulated by the state were able to continue to operate after failing state inspections by claiming to be religious groups and subsequently being taken over by the agency that regulates those religious children’s homes. In other cases, there have been children’s homes that even lost licenses from the lax religious agency after which they started calling themselves “boarding schools,” a label that allows the organizations to run without being regulated by any agency at all.

Although these children’s homes are not regulated by the state, Florida’s Department of Children and Families (DCF) has been notified of over 150 cases of child abuse occurring in the institutions in the last several years. The agency has investigated some of the abuse charges but claims to lack the authority to have the homes closed down to prevent further abuse. Most children’s homes in the state are strictly regulated and monitored by the DCF, avoiding the problem that these unregulated homes are experiencing.

Although most religious children’s homes follow the few regulations they are given and do not abuse children, the law puts too much trust in the regulatory agency because of a fear of denying the homes their religious freedom, and children are paying the price for it. Florida must put the health and safety of children before the need to defend religious freedom and make sure that all children’s homes are regulated by the state.

PETITION LETTER:

Dear David Wilkins,

In an investigation of religious children’s homes in Florida, it was discovered that several of these facilities have been getting away with physically and sexually abusing children. The law that allows religious homes to be run without state supervision has led the DCF to claim that it does not have the power to close the homes or stop the abuse.

Because of your agency’s refusal to act, foster homes and boarding schools are allowed to torture children and teenagers, and prevent them from reporting the abuse. The DCF has admitted to being aware of over 150 cases of child abuse in these institutions, but has not agreed to do anything more than investigate the homes that it does not have the power to regulate.

It is time for the DCF to ensure that children are safe in all of Florida’s group homes by making every effort to remove their exemptions from state oversight and shut down the homes that are not following state regulations.

Sincerely,

[Your Name Here]

Photo credit: Bruce Tuten via Flickr.

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