Lawmaker Seeks Answers On Migrant Children

Mar 22, 2019

A Miami lawmaker on Thursday sent a letter to the head of the state’s child-welfare agency demanding to know the steps it is taking to ensure migrant children in a federal shelter in Homestead are housed “safe and free from sexual abuse.”

Credit News Service of Florida

Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez delivered a letter to the Florida Department of Children and Families a day after The News Service of Florida reported the agency has investigated six cases of alleged child sexual abuse at the facility since June, including two cases that involved caregivers.

“It is troubling that these initial six cases were not disclosed earlier,” Rodriguez, a Democrat, said in the letter. “As elected officials, we should not have to rely upon the media to inform us of issues that leave our most vulnerable citizens at risk.”

The state agency closed two investigations involving caregivers after finding “no indicators” of sexual abuse, according to state records obtained by the News Service through a public records request.

Four of the cases, focusing on allegations of "child-on-child sexual abuse," were investigated by the state as late as January at the discretion of the federal government. The outcomes of all four cases are unclear because DCF has referred them back to the federal government after finding that the cases did not involve allegations against caregivers.

“Although six cases were publicly reported, are there other cases of reported child sexual abuse that are either closed or still pending currently with the Department of Children and Families not yet disclosed?” Rodriguez wrote to DCF Secretary Chad Poppell.

Rodriguez asked Poppell to provide documentation. He also asked the secretary to provide information about what the state agency is doing to work with the federal government in protecting migrant children, who are under the care of federal officials and Comprehensive Health Services, a contractor.

“What steps has or will the Department of Children and Families take to coordinate with the federal government to ensure that these children residing in Florida are being kept safe and free from sexual abuse?” Rodriguez wrote.

DCF does not license the Homestead shelter and has no role in the care of migrant children in federal custody. The state agency, however, opened investigations into the six cases after the federal government referred them to state when they came through the Florida Abuse Hotline.

The facility was reopened by the federal government last March as part of the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” border enforcement policy, which swelled the number of migrant children being housed in facilities like the one in Homestead.