Former DCF official: System failed slain toddler

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The 2-year-old boy who, according to Largo Police, was killed by his mother was failed by Florida's child welfare system, an expert who used to help run the Department of Children and Families said Friday.

Nick Cox, the former director of DCF's SunCoast Region, was critical of the agency he helped run and told FOX 13 the care of a single child, like Jordan Belliveau, can often be contracted out to several community organizations, resulting in major problems.

"There are so many layers to child welfare, we lose accountability and sometimes we lose the message," Cox said. "DCF says, 'this is how the system needs to run,' and by the time it travels all the way down the chain, the message is diluted."

Jordan spent the majority of his life living with a foster family. According to court documents, Jordan's biological family has been connected to drugs, violence, and possible gang activity.

Cox said, under state law, a child's reunification with his or her biological parents is a priority. But Cox believes there were far too many red flags in this case.

"It went beyond the structure of the child welfare system. There were red flags all over the place," he said.

A judge, acting on the recommendation of a magistrate, ordered Jordan to be returned to his biological parents in May. A few months later, the little boy was dead and his mother, Charisse Stinson, was facing a first-degree murder charge.

"A lot of poeple are pointing at the judge," Cox said. "That's probably not fair because we don't know what the judge knew and didn't know. That judge has to rely on the state, on the parents' attorneys and on the guardian ad litem to tell them what they need to know to make that decision."

A guardian ad litem is responsible for keeping the court aware of a child's best interests and the worker responsible for Jordan's case raised concerns about Stinson that were ultimately overruled.

Cox worries there can be too much of a rush to reunify troubled parents with their children.

"We have such an incredible desire, and a rightful desire, to want to have kids be with their biological parents. I think that sometimes our desire to that gets the better of us, both as individuals and as a system," Cox said. "Re-unification is the right thing to, I believe. I think it is the right thing under Florida law. But we got to be smart, we got to be careful and you can't allow something like this to happen with these kids."

DCF has said the agency was not responsible for Jordan's case because it had been contracted out to an organization in Pinellas County.

Cox, however, believes DCF ultimately shoulders some of the blame because that's the agency "invested with the power by the legislature and from the governor to take care of these kids."