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    Bill would allow DCF to publicize information about missing children

    ©Associated Press
    August 26, 2002

    FORT LAUDERDALE -- Several state legislators say they want to lift confidentiality requirements that forbid the state's child welfare agency from publicizing information about youths missing from its care.

    The Department of Children & Families contends that existing law, intended to protect the privacy of abused and neglected children, keeps the agency from seeking the public's help when children run away or are abducted by relatives.

    State Rep. Sandra Murman, R-Tampa and chairwoman of a special committee investigating DCF, is one of the legislators who is proposing to introduce a bill allowing the agency to go public with information about children in such cases.

    "The veil of secrecy needs to be dropped," Murman said. "Communities can help find these lost children. There are certain sensitive things that need to be protected about abused kids, but when we have missing children, I don't think you need confidentiality."

    State Sen. Burt Saunders, R-Naples, also a member of the committee investigating the DCF, supports easing the confidentiality constraints.

    "If the statute is so restrictive that information cannot be disseminated to the public to assist in locating children, I think we need to change the statute," Saunders said.

    John Slye, deputy general counsel for the DCF, said agency officials "have a concern in terms of (the law) and the need to keep the children's identity confidential because of the way the statute is written."

    State Rep. Stacy Ritter, D-Coral Springs, said DCF may be misinterpreting the law to cover up its failures.

    "Rather than going to the public and say, 'Help us find these kids,' they hide behind the statute because they're afraid the public will see what they're doing, which is nothing," Ritter said.

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