DCF's handling of problem youth angers sheriff

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Delays in state agencies placing a 16-year-old Franklin County youth into a situation where he’ll stay out of trouble has prompted Sheriff A.J. Smith to go right to the top of the Department of Children and Families.

“I’ve spoken to DCF Secretary Shevaun Harris, and told her ‘Ya’ll got to get your act together,’” he said in an interview Wednesday. “We’ve had a problem with him for a long time.”

Smith said in recent weeks, the boy is believed to have committed crimes that include burglary, grand theft auto, battery, and trespass, and is a suspect in the theft of a pistol from a truck.

“I just haven’t said anything,” he said. “I finally got a belly full of it. This is a case that is that extreme. He’s going to hurt somebody or do something horrific. Nothing is being done, and we’re not getting resolution.”

Smith said his office has done its job, and made the arrest, but that the Department of Juvenile Justice has determined by its scoring system that he does not warrant being detained.

“They typically release a youth to a parent, but when there’s no parent, they then reach out to DCF,” he said. “Both parents are drug addicts and both grandparents can’t control him.”

Smith said he has asked DCF to stop trying to place him with a grandmother. “I’ve told them ‘Quit calling the grandmother, she can’t take him, y’all,” he said. “But it’s like talking to the table. “They’re giving me the runaround.”

The sheriff said the boy’s father had picked him up at the jail, but later allowed him to roam in a drug neighborhood. “We can hold him for six hours,” he said.

The sheriff said the youth is one of more than a dozen “underage kids that roam the streets all night.

“That’s their job taking, taking care of kids and putting them in places,” he said. “I would have them place him in a shelter where he’s safe. When this kid goes and does something bad to somebody, his life is ruined.

“He’s just a kid looking for somebody to care for him, and he’s already hard as a rock,” Smith said.

In an email reply Wednesday, Laura Walthall, DCF’s deputy communications director of media, wrote that “DCF is aware of the situation and the department is working closely with law enforcement, community partners and service providers on an ongoing basis.”

She noted that additional information remains confidential as per Florida statute.

“Our department has put a focus on working with community stakeholders throughout the state to implement a multidisciplinary teaming and referral model to connect struggling families with community-based behavioral health and stabilizing services,” she wrote. “Our efforts with this initiative are to prevent entry into deep-end services and the juvenile justice and child welfare systems.

“The department is focusing efforts on supporting families access to needed services. Secretary Harris has implemented many changes to the department including an emphasis on integrating our systems -- breaking down silos to really wrap our arms around children and families to address their needs holistically.”

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