After a lifetime of drawing the short straw, Keishan Ross may finally have caught a break.
The 17-year-old Broward County boy has an IQ that tops out at 61, on a good day. By age 3, his teachers knew that he was severely limited in his capacity to learn. He suffers from mental illnesses that he can’t understand. He will never be able to reliably cooperate with doctors, teachers or his loving mother.
By age 11, Keishan was labeled a delinquent. His mother, his public defender, and a caring judge have tried and failed to extricate him from the Government Shuffle between the Broward Regional Juvenile Detention Center and the Apalachicola Forest Youth Camp, neither of which is equipped to meet the public’s need for Keishan and children like him to be kept in a safe and secure environment under the care of appropriately trained professionals.
What Keishan needs would cost about $130,000 a year. That’s a small price to pay to avoid the bad PR generated by the horror stories that leak out of the medieval snake pits where Florida warehouses thousands of faceless, forgotten children whose “maladaptive behaviors” are a manifestation of their extreme disabilities.
It’s pure, dumb luck that brought Keishan’s plight, and his picture, to public attention. A Miami Herald investigations team, working under a reporting grant from the Center for Health Journalism at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School, was being squired about the Broward detention center by Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) Secretary Christy Daly, when Keishan’s “deep, primal, piercing, unrelenting screams” made it impossible to think of anything else.
Jail guards are used to such Bedlam, but Herald photographer Emily Michot‘s picture of Daly’s stricken face is worth a thousand words about the gap between the professional skills it takes to run DJJ and the political connections it takes to get the job.
It’s been two months since Daly admitted to the Herald that Keishan does not belong in the Broward gulag. But it took an order from Circuit Judge Michael Orlando to get him into a Broward County psychiatric hospital for tests and treatment.
Judges prefer to leave the social work to social workers, but DJJ’s “partners” at the Department of Children & Families were unwilling to consider anything other than more of the same.
In cases like Keishan’s, a judge who’s willing to “retain jurisdiction” is the only protection a disabled child has in an elaborate ecosystem that enables an alphabet soup of agencies to evade meaningful responsibility for meaningful draining of the bureaucratic swamp where children drown.