State review found no grounds to remove children
Jay Meisel | Highlands TodayAVON PARK Two 2011 Florida Department of Children and Families visits to a home, where a child died in 2012, determined that problems involving cockroach infestations were resolved, an official said Monday.
Published: January 15, 2013
Published: January 15, 2013
Investigators found that the "case didn't rise to the level of removal (of the child from the home)," said Carrie Hoeppner, DCF communications director for the central region of Florida.
After the final visit in November 2011, the department had no further involvement with the family until it was notified that the child, Milo Rupert, died in July 7, 2012, Hoeppner said.
Milo's parents, Kyle Lee Marsh Rupert, 22, and Sandra Michelle Jackson, 25, were arrested by the Highlands County Sheriff's Office last week and each was charged with one count of child neglect with great harm and three counts of child neglect without great harm.
Those arrests came six months after deputies and emergency rescue responders found Milo dead in a crib, according to an arrest affidavit.
They also found that Milo and the three other children in the house appeared malnourished, cockroaches infested the home and that dwelling was littered with garbage and cigarette butts, the affidavits said.
Hoeppner said that such cases in general, which may involve insect infestations and or bad housekeeping, present some of the biggest challenges to DCF investigators.
In cases where the child was abused and injured, the decisions regarding removal are much clearer, she said.
Some cases clearly don't justify removal, she said. "Most cases are in-between."
Decisions in some cases can be different, based on whether the parent is willing to solve the problem, she said.
DCF cannot just remove a child because the house isn't tidy, she said. "We're not there to make sure the laundry is done."
Nor can DCF remove a child because of some feeling that in the future something might happen to put the child in harm's way, she said. Caseworkers much decide based on what they see when they visit the home, she said.
Hoeppner said that as a former caseworker she had a bad feeling about the situation in some cases, but had to act on the reality of what was present.
Caseworkers only get a "snapshot" of what the family's life is like, she said. "You're only in there for a short amount of time."
There's no guarantee that something won't happen after the visit, she said.
DCF works to keep families together and recognizes that removing the child can be traumatic in itself, she said.
On a regular basis, Hoeppner said, DCF reviews its handling cases.
As a result of the case involving the death of Milo, DCF looked at how it handled 50 cases involving home environmental issues in 16 area counties and found that investigators improved contacts with doctors or healthcare providers. The review also noted that in 67 percent of the cases, substance abuse and mental health issue contributed to the situations, she said.
In 80 percent of the cases, the investigator revisited a home before closing the case, she said.
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