MIAMI – At first, I thought he was kidding.
The call from the 850 area code (Tallahassee) turned out to be a rep from the Department of Children & Families. I figured he was returning my calls about the now-fired caseworker for a baby who died, about follow-through on family services, about the breakdown of a system...
The DCF press guy had one question. It was a question about a word. One word.
"Really?" I asked. "Really."
His DCF brass wanted to know why I chose a particular word -- an adjective -- in one of my reports this week.
Think about that. The hierarchy of the state agency responsible for the most vulnerable among us, dealing with another high-profile case of a dead baby, directed their press guy to investigate, call and challenge one word one journalist used in one report.
They took issue that I described the now-fired investigator Shani Smith as a "respected veteran." Sure, she's a veteran of the department, they acknowledged, but they thought the word "respected" was an "editorial comment."
So I explained (not that I had to) that we had looked into Smith's 428-page personnel file, that it contained glowing reviews, including comments last March about how her "leadership skills ... and good attitude has awarded her the respect of her coworkers."
There. No editorial, just a direct factual quote from their own records.
So now let's get back to the real issue, this latest case of a DCF-served family whose baby was found dead. It's troubling on many levels, not because of evidence found, but because of the absence of evidence.
DCF says it has no record that Smith transmitted a standard request for family services - not by fax, email, computer entry - nothing. Smith says the evidence of her request is right there in a hard-file, but it has disappeared. The company reps contracted to provide the family services say they find no record of Smith's contact. It's one big he-said/she-said.
No matter who did what, or didn't do what, or who ends up with blame, it all comes down to the top. The absence of evidence proves, once again, DCF had too few checks and balances to keep a case from falling through the cracks. And it happened despite the legacy of the late Nubia Barahona, a seismic department overhaul two years ago meant to prevent a repeat of that type of catastrophe.
No one can dispute - DCF has a monumentally difficult job. Maybe the most difficult, on some levels. Which is why it's baffling to think of the time and effort they directed to one word in one television news report.
Is DCF that worried about crafting its image?
Maybe you want to add your own choice words...