June 7, 2011 / firstcoastnews.com
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- A background check the Department of Children and Families did on one Jacksonville woman before it issued her licenses to operate a day care and be a foster parent did not reveal her abusive past, according to new DCF records.
DCF gave Annette Smith a license to operate a day care in 2001 and one to be a foster parent in 2004. But Smith was convicted of child abuse in 1991, which according to DCF's foster care checklist is a disqualifier.
According to DCF, it did a background check on Smith. Documents just released from the agency are partially redacted, but a check done by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement only shows Smith's 1992 and 1993 DUI arrests and convictions. DUI is not a disqualifier.
Smith's records also note that caseworkers checked the Florida Abuse History system, which had no records of allegations against Smith. DCF did not release any information on why Smith's child abuse charge was not found.
"This is a very complicated case; the issues will be fought out in court. In doing the required checks, both with FDLE and with Duval County, her child abuse background did not show up," the department said in a statement.
Records show DCF and Family Support Services (FSS), the agency it hired to monitor Smith, noted Smith's abusive past in 2006 when she was arrested and later convicted of abusing a foster child.
An email from DCF's program management director said, "...the children were thrilled to leave (Smith's home) My question is why didn't one of (FSS') caseworkers pick this up?"
FSS notes in a different email that Smith had an over-capped home, meaning she was fostering more children than she was licensed for.
The email states, "FSS created a Safety Action Plan...to implement immediately for all over-capped homes."
The plan ordered the homes be "....visited by a licensing support specialist minimally once per month."
FSS' CEO Jim Adams released a statement saying, "I wish I could comment in full but this is an ongoing civil case. I will tell you though we are determined to find the answer. We've come light years in the protection of our most vulnerable children and we will not lose ground in our battle to keep them safe."
Adams said the process of checking someone's abuse history is much better today than when Smith's was checked.
Smith didn't answer her door at home. But she called first Coast News and said she didn't remember being convicted on the 1991 child abuse case. Then she hung up.
DCF revoked Smith's license after her 2006 child abuse arrest, but Smith fought back. In a letter to DCF, Smith wrote, "I'm not an abuser, nor a neglecter. I'm the righteousness of God... How long will I be penalized for a report that happened in 1991? Can it be removed?"
Then she asked DCF to reconsider restoring her foster care license.
Smith's case is rare, but it's happened before, according to the FDLE.
Arresting agencies are responsible for getting the information on convictions to FDLE. It's unclear if that was not done in Smith's 1991 case.
A civil lawsuit has been filed against FSS alleging neglect in monitoring Smith and how she was caring for two foster kids.