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Child welfare changes

A South Florida grand jury blasted the Department of Children and Families saying they covered up reports about child deaths.
    The 30-page report says the agency was misleading in the way they categorized child abuse deaths to make it seem lower.
    This comes just days after Governor Rick Scott signed into law sweeping child welfare changes.

    There are more than 1,000 children under court supervision in Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, and Walton counties.
    These children are under supervision because of abuse, abandonment, or neglect.
    Child advocacy groups are hoping these new  changes will lower that number.
    When a child is placed in the system, they don't always have someone standing up for them.That's where the Guardian Ad Litem program steps in. The program is made up of people who have the legal authority to serve as a child's advocate and be their voice.
"Parents have attorneys, DCF has attorneys. They all have someone putting forth what's important to them. Without Guardian Ad Litem, that child has no one to stand for them," said Rosemary Ash, the Circuit Director.

    It's been a decades-old policy for DCF to focus on family preservation.
    DCF wanted to lower the number of children in foster care and instead, try and help the family, so a child could stay at home.
    Circuit director Rosemary Ash says that system wasn't working.
    Children were often left in danger, especially when parents fought violently or battled drug addiction.

"The places that these children are in are scary. I worry about these kids all the time," said Ash. 

    But that's all changing.
    DCF will shift their focus from protecting the rights and wishes of parents, to now putting the child's safety  first.
    Ash says, the frustration of trying to place the child's needs first will no longer be an issue.

"Child safety is the most important. Everything else comes second," said Ash.

    DCF has also launched a website.
    The website will publish basic information about all child abuse deaths and will be updated weekly.