Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Speaking up for those who can't speak for themselves

Carol Marbin Miller.
Speak up for those who can’t speak for themselves,
      for the rights of all who need an advocate. ~Proverbs 31:8 [Complete Jewish Bible]


At some point last Wednesday - or maybe it was the following day - Miami Herald reporter Carol Marbin Miller made a call to the Department of Children and Families in Tallahassee.

She wanted to know if the agency had any history of dealing with the parents of Javon Dade Jr., the 4-year-old boy whose body had been discovered a few hours earlier in some overgrown grass outside his father's South Miami-Dade home.

The boy had been savagely mauled by his father's dogs: Two adult female terrier-boxer mixes, an adult male pit bull.

At about the same time Miami TV reporters were breaking down their live shots in front of the home and moving on to the next story, Miller was on the phone with someone at DCF requesting records that might show the agency's past contact with Javon's parents.

Miller got the records yesterday.  And in the paper this morning, she documents yet another story of DCF incompetence that ends with another innocent child losing his life:
Javon Dade Jr. 
Three years before Javon Dade Jr. was mauled to death by his father’s dogs, state child protection workers were warned about “the smell and danger” of the six “untrained dogs” living in an apartment with Javon’s family. Two of the dogs were pit bull terriers, which are banned in Miami-Dade County, a caller said.

“The dogs have not really been trained,” an unidentified caller told the Department of Children & Families’ child abuse hotline. “There is concern for the safe care of the children in the home.”

Javon’s father, also named Javon Dade, told investigators the animals did not belong to him. “Dad’s response has been, ‘I know, I know,’ and that he is trying to get the dogs out of the home,” a report said. But the dogs remained.

Last Wednesday, Miami-Dade police made a gruesome discovery: 4-year-old Javon’s badly mauled body lying in overgrown grass in the backyard of the family’s Goulds home. Javon had last been seen at 5 a.m., about four hours before his father noticed he was missing, and six hours before his body was found, a DCF report said.

Javon became the most recent child to die of abuse or neglect after state child protection workers had come in contact with their families. In a recent series, Innocents Lost, the Miami Herald documented the cases of 477 children — most of them younger than 5 — who died following some DCF activity, and the deaths have continued to mount.

DCF Interim Secretary Mike Carroll, who became the top administrator following the state’s annual lawmaking session in May, said Monday he believes the agency’s performance has improved since Javon’s last contact with the agency three years ago. In particular, he said, investigators failed to view the totality of Javon’s family history, and closed the case without adequately understanding the risks the boy faced. Such mistakes should be declining, he said.

Three years ago, Carroll said, investigators apparently did not know that pit bull terriers are banned in Miami-Dade — and were unaware of the county ordinance even now. Animal control officers should have been alerted to the presence of the dogs three years ago, Carroll said.

“That call should have been made,” Carroll said. “When we were reviewing this case, we did not know that. If that’s a law, yes, absolutely we should have made a call.”

Miller reports that "after his son’s death, Javon Dade was fined a total of $1,040 by the county for violating its ordinance on dangerous dogs."

I've talked with Miller in the past. On those occasions she's told me that she gets up everyday and does the job she's paid to do. In other words, nothing special. Some, however, would beg to differ.

Veteran Miami reporter Michael Putney, said this about Miller this morning: "She's a relentless reporter. She's phenomenal."

Putney continued: "Years ago, when I first got into journalism, I thought I could change the world. I soon found out the only thing I was changing was myself. But Carol's different. Her reporting does change things."

After reading Miller's story, I found myself  feeling angry and helpless.

But after doing some research, I realized that while I don't have the voice that Miller does, there are still ways to make a difference, however small.

Sometime later today, I plan to make a donation - in Javon's name - to one of several Miami organizations that do good work with children who are struggling to make it.

Why not join me, if you're able?


Casa Valentina: "Casa Valentina is an affordable housing and life skills program for youth who have aged out of foster care in Miami-Dade County." Click here to donate.

Kristi House: "Kristi House, Inc. is a private, non-profit organization in Miami, Florida, dedicated to healing and eradicating child sexual abuse." Click on the "donate" button on the home page.

The Arc of South Florida: An organization that helps people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Click here to donate.

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