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Documentary on Florida’s troubled foster care system draws big St. Pete crowd

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

A new film focusing on Florida’s troubled foster care system drew a large crowd at a screening in Gulfport Wednesday night.

Foster Shock’ is a documentary highlighting the ills of the state’s child welfare system showed how a government body had completely turned over the responsibility and care of children to contracted, for-profit companies, who, in turn, contract out the work to other companies, exposing minors to dangers such as violence, drugs, sex trafficking and criminalization.

Directed by Mari Frankel and narrated by Tim Malloy, with cinematography by Brian Bayerl, Foster Shock takes the viewer inside the world of foster children after they are yanked from their homes. They screened the movie at Stetson Law School in Gulfport to a packed room.

Frankel, who once worked as a Guardian ad Litem in Palm Beach County, addressed those in attendance, setting the mood for the film. She told the story of the first child she advocated — a 12-year-old boy with special needs who had been sexually abused in his foster home. After she came and got the boy, the caseworker was nonchalantly prepared to put the young man back in the same home.

That didn’t happen, Frankel said, but soon after that, another child was placed in that home and was sexually abused, even though Department of Children and Families staff knew of the earlier sexual abuse.

“We need to raise the bar, and we need to raise the bar high,” she said. “We need to know that we can make a change. I know it doesn’t take legislation to be caring, to be loving.”

Sometimes the parents screwed up or are abusive. Sometimes, children are just prematurely or wrongly removed from their homes. No matter what, they often wind up being placed in settings that were worse than where they came from, enduring life-scarring traumas.

At one hour, seven minutes, the film follows the stories of several young adults who “aged out” of the foster car system or in a couple of lucky instances, were adopted and allowed to flourish to be who they wanted to be — something they were not able to do in the prisonlike group homes scattered across the state, housing thousands of children due to a lack of housing placements.

In the homes, privacy is nonexistent; fights are commonplace; staff abuse is rampant and inappropriately large dosages of psychotropic drugs are forced onto children by staff lacking any kind of credentials.

While film does a good job of portraying group homes, it mentions nothing of the murders, killings and ongoing deaths occurring throughout the state on a routine basis under the care of the so-called “CBCs,” or community-based care agencies, like Our Kids of Miami-Dade Monroe, Eckerd Youth Alternatives, Community Partnership for Children, Inc., etc., who continue to have the contracts with DCF renewed, despite the continuing deaths.

Meanwhile, filmmakers say CEOs of CBCs are grossly overpaid — as an example, David Dennis, the chief executive officer of Eckerd, made $708,028 in fiscal year 2015.

After the screening, four young adults in their late teens and mid-20s fielded questions from a Pinellas County dependency judge, sharing their experiences with the crowd.

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Les Neuhaus is an all-platform journalist, with specialties in print reporting and writing. In addition to Florida Politics, he freelances as a general-assignment and breaking-news reporter for most of the major national daily newspapers, along with a host of digital media, and a human rights group. A former foreign correspondent across Africa and Asia, including the Middle East, Les covered a multitude of high-profile events in chronically-unstable nations. He’s a veteran of the U.S. Air Force, in which he served as a Security Policeman, and graduated from the University of Tennessee with a B.A. in political science. He is a proud father to his daughter and enjoys spending time with his family.

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