Foster Parent Rick Hazel was convicted for sexually abusing a foster girl in his care. Image Source.

Comments by Brian Shilhavy
Editor, Health Impact News

As we have reported many times over the years here at Health Impact News, the U.S. Foster Care System is the #1 pipeline to child sex trafficking.

Numerous studies over the past several years have confirmed that children do far better when left in their homes, even troubled homes where parents may have drug issues and other problems, than when they are placed in foster care. See:

Foster Care Children are Worse Off than Children in Troubled Homes – The Child Trafficking Business

Study: Children from Poor Parents, Even if they have a Drug Problem, do Worse if Put into Foster Care

Investigative reporters at USA Today have done an excellent job in showing just how corrupt the child welfare and foster care system is in Florida, documenting hundreds of cases where children were removed from their homes and then put into foster care settings where they were sexually abused. They report:

Using a state database, USA TODAY reporters examined more than 1 million foster home placements going back a decade. They collected police reports, court records and government documents and ran background checks on every foster parent who had been assigned a child.

Reporters then crisscrossed the state to interview more than 100 survivors, parents, caseworkers and child advocates.

Among the findings:

  • The Department of Children and Families and the 17 private agencies that manage the child welfare system across Florida sent nearly 170 children to live in foster homes where the state had some evidence that abuse occurred. In 2016, two preschool girls said their Sarasota County foster father molested them. The state sent him 13 more children, stopping only when a third toddler reported that the 64-year-old had forced her to put his penis in her mouth.
  • Caseworkers ignored or overruled DCF safety guidelines to crowd children into foster homes not equipped to handle them. The number of foster homes caring for four or more kids almost doubled between 2014 and 2018, according to a USA TODAY analysis of child placement data.
  • The number of children under 10 sent to live in group homes doubled between 2013 and 2017, adding to the cost of care and the danger to children. Some were sent to places such as the Mount Dora-based National Deaf Academy even after a whistleblower lawsuit was filed in Lake County claiming that staff had held children down, punched them in the stomach, spat on them and denied them medical care.
  • As caseloads rose, child welfare workers skipped home visits and parent training sessions because they could not keep up with required safety checks. They fabricated logs to make it appear as if the sessions took place. When caseworkers lied and omitted information from their reports, children got hurt, according to lawsuits and DCF inspector general reports. One IG report told of a child who was sexually assaulted after an investigations supervisor falsely claimed a hotline call had been successfully investigated and provisions had been made for the safety of the children involved.

Several stories are highlighted in their report, including the case of longtime Florida foster father Rick Hazel, who they say repeatedly raped a child in his care, taking videos of the molestation and hiding a camera in the bathroom to watch her shower.

More than 70 children allegedly passed through his home.

When deputies arrested him in 2019, the Hazels were the longest-tenured foster parents in St. Augustine. More than 70 kids had passed through their home. In addition to the rape victim, the family members of two other foster children came forward with concerns of abuse or neglect.

But following Hazel’s arrest, no one – not caseworkers, not child abuse investigators, not law enforcement – talked to all of the other children who had lived in the home to see if they had seen or suffered abuse.

Those children were all adopted or moved on to new homes. Until contacted by reporters, the adults in their lives had no idea they had spent time with a man who ultimately was convicted of child sex abuse.

Rick and Shirley Hazel were considered model foster parents.

They took in children of all ages and races, including kids with autism, and adopted three of them. They were active at church and the foster parent association, meeting with biological parents on nights and weekends to make visits easier.

“Wonderful human beings, blessed, doing God’s work,” one social worker commented in their file.

“One of the very best places a child could be,” wrote another.

As they gained a rapport with workers in the system, St. Johns County sent the Hazels more and more kids, even when their home reached – and surpassed – the state-mandated capacity of five total children.

The stream of kids finally ended in 2019, when a 13-year-old told detectives that her foster-turned-adoptive father had “raped me like I was his wife.”

Read the full report at USA Today.

 

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