TALLAHASSEE — The story is all too familiar. A visiting aunt brings a pet dog and leaves it unattended for a few minutes. The dog bites her infant niece as she naps. The infant’s mother calls 911 and the child is hospitalized.
The next day, the Department of Children and Families (DCF) takes the infant’s siblings from their home and from their mother and father. Then, upon release from the hospital, DCF takes the infant. To ensure that her brothers and sisters, present and future, are protected from their parents, DCF has the court issue a pick up warrant for her unborn brother. The infant’s mother goes into hiding to keep the state from taking the family’s last child. Since their mother is not present after DCF took her children, the court declares she has abandoned them and strips her of her parental rights. In effect, the state tells her, “We can’t stop you from having children, but if you birth another we will take it from you for the child’s safety. We are professionals. We know best.”
The source of this recurring unpleasantness is a DCF caseworker who concludes that the family home is an unsafe environment—a home with a sleeping infant and a pet dog. However, the question remains: Why must DCF wait until there is an injured child before it can step in to do what it knows is best?
In October 2007, Florida lawmakers passed a bill, recently signed by the governor, which provides the answer: the Children’s Review and Professional Protection Office (CRAPPO). CRAPPO reviews the living conditions of all children under the age of 18 before a child is injured. The mission of CRAPPO is to identify trouble before it happens then rescue and protect youth from their impending physical or emotional injury.
CRAPPO has three classifications of “parent:” a child’s birth mother and father are its “familiar” parents; professionals brought in by DCF to care for children are “stranger” parents and, should a child be adopted, there are “adopter” parents.
CRAPPO’s movements are house-by-house, wherever children live. Government records and intelligence reports provided anonymously by relatives, neighbors, teachers, medical professionals, clergy and US mail carriers target homes with children.
Once a home is located, CRAPPO, in the interest of time and safety, has full authority to enter the premises, unannounced, and examine the children, their “familiar” parents and their surroundings. If, in the sole opinion of CRAPPO, they foresee that a child could, in any circumstance, somehow, one day, become injured while living at home, they call DCF to confiscate the children. One example, sited by CRAPPO, of an unfit or otherwise dangerous environment is a tree in the yard that a child, if left unattended, might climb and be injured in a fall. Another example is a tub in which a child could slip if left unattended while bathing. Still another instance is a game of catch where the child could be hit in the eye by a ball thrown by someone whom the parents failed to check for a valid Department of Health (DOH) license to throw balls. These threats and more constantly plague children at home. It is the duty of DCF to remove children from suspect environments and from their negligent “familiar” parents. CRAPPO is the agency that gives DCF the leverage it needs to accomplish its mission. To keep CRAPPO free of political and other influences, it operates with full legal immunity and without oversight.
CRAPPO investigates. DCF confiscates. Courts terminate parental rights and law enforcement officers guarantee compliance. Finally, the state brings tax resources to bear and puts those confiscated youth in the care of strangers (“stranger” parents) at night and deposits them in day-care services during business hours—“stranger” parents and facilities are screened by DCF, DOH and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE). Court-ordered day-care allows the “stranger” parents to maintain their busy schedules. The “familiar” parents are required to pay for state-ordered day-care.
DCF studies show that it is in the best interest of children that they are adopted quickly once removed from their “familiar” parents. Federal grant money assists in the effort. As a further incentive, Florida offers state employees a $5,000 bonus to become an “adopter” parent. Always with the child’s best interest at heart, the state, at the expense of taxpayers eager to do the right thing, sees to it that a psychologist interviews each child. More than likely, the child has contracted one or more mental health disorders. To ease the burden on “adopter” parents, Florida pays them additional tax money, each month, for each diagnosed disorder.
Florida now has what it needs to make sure children are safe. CRAPPO to identify approaching perils, DCF to remove and relocate, courts to terminate “familiar” parental rights, law enforcement to make it stick, and a $226.7 million tax-based budget to fund it.
Florida’s CRAPPO initiative is currently under study in Missouri, Idaho and California as a model for their children.