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Florida criticized for leaving foster kids in motel

From Susan Candiotti
CNN Miami Bureau

WEST PALM BEACH, Florida (CNN) -- Florida's child welfare system, still reeling from the unsolved disappearance of 5-year-old Rilya Wilson, faces new criticism after several underaged, foster children were found, unattended, at a West Palm Beach motel.

The Department of Children and Families (DCF) rented two rooms last month for six girls, between the ages of 11 and 15.

A private company had been hired to supervise the girls, but a motel employee became concerned and called police after seeing the girls in other people's rooms and drinking at the pool with some of the adult men staying at the motel.

Officer Nicole Maale, who responded to the call, said employees told her they smelled marijuana and suspected the girls might be having sex.

Maale said she contacted the DCF and learned that the children had been placed in the motel because there was a shortage of foster homes.

"This environment does not appear to be the safest place to house children that are waiting to be placed in foster care," she wrote in her report.

Florida Gov. Jeb Bush called the incident "outrageous" and said the state's contract with the company that was supposed to be supervising the girls has been suspended.

Some of the girls have been placed in drug rehab centers, others are in a mental health facility and some are now in foster care.

In the two months since Rilya Wilson was discovered missing, almost 140 child welfare workers across the state have been fired for various reasons, including failure to visit children in their care.

Wilson's grandmother said she turned the girl over to a woman she believed was a caseworker in January, 2001, and has not seen her since.

Her case came before the courts at least six times after that, Miami-Dade District Court Judge Cindy Lederman said.

She said that Wilson's caseworker, Deborah Muskelly, filed a report in August, 2001, that said "the children (referring to Rilya and her sister) are being supported in a family-like setting."




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