A tragic case of child abuse is shedding some light on a serious problem across the state of Florida, putting children in real danger. The issue, a shortage of child protection investigators resulting in overworked CPIs.
In December, one-year-old Aedyn Agminalis died while in foster care. His foster parent, Latamara Flythe, is now being charge with murder while his biological mother and father have been charge with child abuse because of his earlier treatment. The details of his care and his death were laid out in a 14 page report completed by the Department of Children and Families, that highlighted some serious flaws among Hillsborough County's Child Protection Investigation Division.
"I think it's impossible to never miss something, especially when you have that kind of a case load," Nikki Daniels, a therapist and child advocate, said. She deals with CPIs regularly. "They always seem frazzled, they always seem hurried, clearly their caring about the kid and the family is there, their desire and attention to do a good job, I feel that from all of them. but I also feel that pressure that they're under."
Several county sheriff's offices conduct their own child protection investigations, but their funding comes from the state. Daniels says the problems start with money.
"It's really about the lack of funding," she said.
The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office refused to talk to ABC Action News about their operations, but according to the report done by DCF after the death of Aedyn Agminalis, the department was short staffed by 22 CPIs. In fact, the report says of the 78 filled positions, the majority of the employees were on restricted case loads due to training, resulting in a core of 30 CPIs averaging 30 cases per month. The recommended number of cases is 12 to 15.
It turns out, workload is a concern in several counties.
Ken Kilian is the Director of Child Protective Investigations at the Pasco County Sheriff's Office. His division is at full staff, but he says his investigators still average between 20 and 25 cases per month. He says this results in higher rates of turnover, which in turn, contribute to a larger caseload.
"The workload, the stressors of the job, absolutely contribute to a members decision to leave or stay," Kilian said.
The Pasco County Sheriff's Office is requesting more funding from the state to add more employees.
"With numbers that account for when people are on vacation, when individuals are on light duty, when they are taking needed vacations to get away from the job," Kilian said.
Daniels says funding concerns go beyond CPIs and have a direct impact on foster care as well.
Eckerd Kids is contracted to deal with foster care in the Bay Area. The organization is also mentioned in the report as having some problems, specifically when communicating about high risk situations. The organization refused our multiple requests for an in-person interview. They sent us the following statement after the death of Aedyn Agminalis.
“Quality foster parents are essential to our work in helping vulnerable children begin to heal in a safe environment. Because we place such sacred trust in them, each one must pass a background screening and home study, as well as go through specific training. There was nothing in Ms. Flythe’s background that indicated she could be a threat to any child placed in her care.
“We ask individuals and families all across the state to step up and become foster parents. We trust them to help us care for these children and that makes it even more devastating when one is accused of hurting the very child they were charged to protect.”
It's unclear if Eckerd wants more funding from the state, but Daniels seems convinced.
"Unfortunately Florida, for years and years and years now, has not adequately funded the child welfare system, so without the funding there's no way to bring the staff in to be able to do the work," she said.