BROOKSVILLE, Fla. – Florida's child welfare workers repeatedly missed or ignored signs that a 10-year-old girl was being abused and nearly starved to death by her foster parents, according to an independent task force.
In its report issued Tuesday, a panel created by Department of Children & Families (search) Secretary Jerry Regier found DCF workers responsible for allowing the girl and her brother to be subjected to a pattern of "torture and starvation."
"To say this is a case of tragic proportions is an understatement," wrote Judge Scott M. Bernstein, a member of the panel. "I sat in a room with over 20 DCF employees who handled portions of this case and not one of them ever checked this severely malnourished child's medical records."
The Allains were arrested on aggravated child abuse and neglect charges but are free on $10,000 bail each. No one at DCF has been reprimanded, but many of the caseworkers involved have left the agency.
Law enforcement officials said the malnourished girl was locked in her bedroom for days at a time and fed only milk, nutritional drinks and a spoonful of food three times a day. She was given a paint bucket to use as a toilet, sheriff's deputies said.
Despite noticing that the children appeared tired and malnourished on four occasions, no child welfare worker challenged the Allains' explanations or sought a medical consultation. An adoption counselor was the only one to note concerns about appliances in the front yard, holes in the floor and walls, and garbage bags piled in the bathtub, the report said.
Caseworkers didn't know that both of the Allains had criminal records, he for drunken driving and she for drug trafficking.
The abuse was investigated after the girl's 14-year-old brother ran away and told authorities.
Lori Allain maintains the girl had an eating disorder.
"She was throwing up every day," Allain said. "I don't need a doctor to tell me she has an eating disorder."
Regier was appointed by Gov. Jeb Bush (search) in 2002 to rescue a department under fire over high-profile failures in which caseworkers lost track of children, left them in abusive situations and falsified reports.
In its report, the panel recommended more training for caseworkers and more oversight by their supervisors.