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Fla. Child Agency Under Fire, Again

July 26, 2002

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WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) _ An internal investigation into the death of an elderly man found unconscious with rats eating his feet has led to the resignation of a supervisor in Florida’s embattled child- and family-protection agency.

A review of the death of Clarence Lewis, 73, found that the Department of Children & Families failed to do enough to protect the man after finding he was living in a rundown home infested with rats and roaches.

The review called for an overhaul of the department’s operations and more supervision and training for investigators.

The report was released Thursday by the order of a judge after The Palm Beach Post argued it was a public record.

Samara Navarro, department director of adult services, said the case was complicated because Lewis refused to let an investigator into his home to provide care. The investigator, Joan Karns, could have asked for a mental health evaluation and the department could have gone to court, but Karns did not know those options were available, Navarro said.

Karns will receive additional training, but Navarro said the blame rests with Karns’ supervisor, Lois Peterson, who resigned in the middle of the investigation. Peterson did not immediately return calls Friday.

Karns had gone out to the elderly man’s house three times. A month later, Lewis had a paralyzing stroke. Neighbors called an abuse hot line after they had not seen him for three days. Rats were eating his feet and ears when he was found. He was hospitalized and died Nov. 7.

The department has come under fire recently over the case of Rilya Wilson, a 5-year-old Miami girl who disappeared while under state protection more than a year ago. In another case, a department employee was charged with falsifying records to show that she visited a 2-year-old boy on the day he was beaten to death, allegedly by a baby sitter.

The department is also responsible for caring for frail, elderly and disabled adults who are victims of abuse, neglect or exploitation and those who need assistance to remain in their homes.

``The foster care program is in complete shambles, but I think this just verifies that the adult services system is in no better shape,″ said state Rep. Susan Bucher. ``We need to concentrate on fixing both sides.″