By Ashley Lopez
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting
As state lawmakers work to change how the state’s child services agency protects vulnerable children in Florida, another child died on the agency’s watch.
Shortly after child protection investigators received reports that Carter James Turcanu’s mother was spending most of her money on drugs — leaving her children hungry — Carter was found dead in his parents’ Stock Island home.
Carter’s death remains under investigation by the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office, and authorities would not disclose the results of an autopsy that was performed last week. Police reports say Carter’s mother, Marcia Ann Hake, told authorities she left Carter on a couch to sleep, and later found him there unresponsive. Reports said police were considering the possibility that Carter was accidentally smothered while asleep on the couch — a sleeping arrangement that is unsafe for infants.
“The crib is stacked with clothing and other articles,” a DCF report states. “There are concerns on how safe or comfortable the baby was in the home.”
Carter’s family, sources told the Miami Herald, had a long history with the state Department of Children & Families, including two child abuse hotline reports within a couple of months of the boy’s death. A brief DCF incident report said agency lawyers were in the process of asking a judge to oversee the family, which was receiving services from Healthy Start and other better-parenting programs.
According to DCF’s own incident report, the agency was aware of the mother’s substance abuse problems. It was also known that the children were often hungry – and unsupervised at times.
This news comes as lawmakers work to pass massive reforms of DCF’s policies.
The effort follows a series published by The Miami Herald called “Innocents Lost.” —The heartbreaking public records project chronicled the nearly 500 deaths that happened under the Florida Department of Children and Families’ watch since 2008. In the wake of that reporting, lawmakers have vowed to make changes.
So far, legislation would increase transparency from DCF about child deaths. The bills would also impose more accountability on other agencies involved in taking care of these vulnerable children. Part of the legislation would create a program that gives incentives to DCF staff for obtaining social work degrees.
The bills would create rapid-response teams to conduct immediate investigations of child deaths, establish the Florida Institute for Child Welfare to conduct policy research and create the position of assistant secretary for child welfare at DCF. Both would keep siblings together and medically fragile children in their communities whenever possible.
The issue of keeping siblings together is deeply important to the advocates for youth who lobby lawmakers about improving the child welfare system.
Legislators are also setting aside an “additional $47 million for child protection in the budget year that begins July 1,” the News Service reports.