9 Investigates: Florida’s foster care failures - Why the system is so hard to change

ORLANDO, Fla. — We have been pushing the state for answers after a Sanford foster father was arrested and accused of creating pornography featuring the children in his care. That situation is just the latest in a string of issues we have covered within the foster care system.

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In another case, 42-year-old Lakeisha Mitchell is at home on bond while awaiting trial for a child’s murder. 4-year-old Joy King Castro was shuffled from foster home to foster home before being placed with Mitchell, and after less than two months together, investigators say Mitchell beat Joy to death.

READ: 9 Investigates: Florida’s foster care failures

We uncovered Joy’s death after two other children were removed from Mitchell’s care just a few months earlier for what Titusville Police described as “corporal punishment.”

One county north, Lawrence Williams is being held without bond after being accused of sexually abusing the girls he was fostering. The alleged crime did not occur without red flags — Williams’ initial arrest report claims an employee at the foster agency had concerns about him being “anxious to foster,” especially considering his request to care for “young white females,” but the state approved his application anyway.

“We’ve never respected this industry, the way that it deserves to be respected, where we’ve got the lives of children on the line,” Embrace Families president Glen Casel said. Embrace manages the foster care system in Orange, Osceola and Seminole Counties. The agency is working with law enforcement after one of its licensed foster fathers, Justin Johnson Senior, was arrested and accused of making child pornography.

READ: ‘It’s very troubling’: Sanford foster father now facing federal child porn charges

“If you look at incidents in foster homes, they’ve gone down,” Casel said. “But when an incident occurs, the consequences are high. So how do we try to ensure that we’re doing everything that we can?”

Casel says the foster system has become overcomplicated as the state has taken discretion away from frontline case workers, and that often changes are only borne out of tragedy, creating rules that are pieced together instead of cohesive.

READ: Sanford man accused of recording thousands of voyeurism videos, police searching for victims

“You get a system that’s too hard to navigate, too hard to say grace over, and ultimately doesn’t really do the protections we want it to do,” Casel said.

Casel was part of a panel that recently worked on a “top ten” list of recommendations to streamline rules for caseworkers. It became an 18-point list of goaks, including “aligning Florida’s regulations for foster homes with federal standards” instead of the current approach, which is described in the document as a hybrid. That list was presented to state leaders.

To date, DCF has not responded to questions from 9 Investigates on the cases described above.

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Karla Ray

Karla Ray, WFTV.com

Karla Ray anchors Eyewitness News This Morning on Saturday and Sundays, and is an investigative reporter for the 9 Investigates unit.