Deborah O'Flaherty-Lewis

Advocate for Children

Deborah O’Flaherty-Lewis: Work Alongside the Florida Department of Children and Families

The Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) is committed to protecting the welfare of children across the state. Deborah O’Flaherty-Lewis has worked for CPIS from her post as the Child Protection Investigators Supervisor at the Broward County Sheriff’s Office. Over the years, partially through O’Flaherty-Lewis’ and other prominent child welfare workers throughout the state, the state legislature has increased funding to the DCF.

O’Flaherty-Lewis is a supporter of the increased budgets for many statewide programs preventing child abuse and saving children from dangerous situations. Recently, the state approved measures that will improve transparency and accountability within the state’s vast child welfare network, of which Deborah O’Flaherty-Lewis is a part.

The relatively new legislation is aimed at strengthening the DCF by giving it the resources to battle problems it used to have with communicating with families and providing comprehensive services to struggling parents. The legislation seems to emphasize rehabilitative services to families with parents who may have substance abuse problems and can’t take care of their kids, and providing information on basic parenting techniques to struggling families. The DCF also provides ways for parents to ask for support and reach out to professionals who can help them with their problems. One campaign that is gaining steam in recent years is the call for frustrated parents to contact DCF or another child welfare office with their concerns and frustrations rather than taking them out on their children. The more that child abuse and endangerment situations are prevented, the less amount of money and time that professionals such as Deborah O’Flaherty-Lewis have to spend trying to fix the problems.

Deborah O’Flaherty-Lewis: Florida Child Welfare Trainer

Deborah O’Flaherty-Lewis is a certified Florida Child Welfare Trainer. She received this accolade from the Child Welfare Training Consortium at the University of South Florida. This organization promotes the health and overall quality of life for children and their families by generating and providing state-of-the-art knowledge to professional child welfare workers to support effective practices and methods for keeping children safe and secure in child welfare systems. The Training Consortium gives child welfare workers an engaging environment focused on teaching and instruction. The programs provided by the Training Consortium foster opportunities for leadership growth and professional development.

Deborah O’Flaherty-Lewis completed the training, at the Child Welfare Training Consortium to learn the latest thoughts and methods in child welfare. The training offers rigorous courses aimed at managing the ins and outs of the Florida child welfare system. O’Flaherty-Lewis says that this training was integral to her rise to the position of Child Protection Investigators Supervisor. She can implement some of the changes she learned about at the Training Consortium and institute some of the new philosophies amongst her subordinates.

Deborah O’Flaherty-Lewis works for Broward County in the Sheriff’s office managing many Child Protection Investigators all doing good work in the community. They are all focused on getting all of the information involved in every situation. Their assessments must be complete with all pertinent information on a child abuse or neglect case. O’Flaherty-Lewis demands from her workers that they bring her information not only on what exactly happened in each case, but also why it happened. O’Flaherty-Lewis believes that with this information, she can help many families and children in her community.

Deborah O’Flaherty-Lewis - The Importance of Dedication

As a Child Protective Investigator Supervisor, Deborah O’Flaherty-Lewis has shown the kind of dedication that she feels is required to make a difference in the life of an abused or neglected child. At-risk kids need a dedicated Child Protective Services worker to help them with their dangerous situation.

The process starts with accurate assessments of child safety and overall wellbeing. These assessments cannot be made with one quick visit. Workers must make many follow-up visits and work to gain the trust of both the child and the parents if possible. This is no easy task of course, and even after several follow-up visits it can be difficult to make a useful recommendation that leads to meaningful change in an at-risk child’s life.

Deborah O’Flaherty-Lewis manages Child Protective Services Investigators and makes sure that their assessments are accurate and will lead to meaningful action. She oversees the case files of many of the most difficult cases in the county, and she works hard to provide parents with the tools to take better care of their kids. When necessary, she uses her connections with foster care agencies to move kids to safer foster homes while their parents sort out their issues.

She says her best days are those when she can see some of the parents she works with solve their issues and create a better home for their kids on their own. Her worst days are when she has to separate kids from the parents for their own safety. Working in such an environment causes her to attempt to meet each day with an open mind and an open heart.

The Florida Department of Children and Families Transformation Project

The Transformation Project initiated by the Florida Department of Children and Families was set forth to help improve on the role of the hotline, investigations and case management so the different departments can work together in one cohesive unit. The Transformation Project helps to ensure efficiency within the system and prevent unnecessary costs or redundancies. Child Protection Investigators Supervisor, Deborah O’Flaherty-Lewis of Broward County, in southern Florida, says that resources are being wasted on high rates of re-abuse in some cases, repeat investigations, and excessive staff turnover. The Child Protection Transformation will better equip each component of the system to gather better information as well as relay information quicker to conduct more quality investigations and assess a more effective engagement strategy to improve the lives of both the children and families. Deborah, along with the Executive Director, believe that focusing on a more robust engagement plan with families will help the state reduce unnecessary costs and allow more families to get the help they need.

As a supervisor of child protection investigators, Deborah O’Flaherty-Lewis says that comprehensive assessments of every situation are crucial in helping families and children in even the most difficult situations. At the core of this project is an emphasis on better abuse and neglect assessment practices. By gathering a complete information on not only what happened, but why it happened in every case, investigators give their supervisors more options when deciding how to handle cases. Misinformed case-workers is one of the main reasons the Transformation Project was started. The decisions resulted in sometimes devastating consequences and wasted effort. The Transformation Project now eliminates this helping to ensure more quality investigations.

An Example of an Exceptional Child Protection Investigator

Deborah O’Flaherty-Lewis thinks of herself as a family rescue worker, and not just a child rescue worker. She focuses on the root cause of problems for children. If a child is in a dangerous situation, she will work quickly and effectively to get him or her removed if necessary, but that isn’t always the best option. Because she preaches the importance of comprehensive assessments by her staff, she can find a solution for the problem often without having to remove the child. Her priority is the children of her community in Broward County, Florida, and she works to save them case by case with her massive network of skills and contacts in the state juvenile systems and the local foster care system. For every case, she believes, there is an optimal solution for an at-risk child.

Deborah O’Flaherty-Lewis became an exemplary Child Protection Investigators Supervisor over years of working directly with other investigators and parents to get to the bottom of the root causes of child abuse and neglect in every case. O’Flaherty-Lewis has shown uncommon compassion both for children and for parents. She feels that the reason some parents do damage to their kids is because they don’t have the resources to manage their own problems. O’Flaherty has seen many times that the root cause for some child abuse or neglect is not because the parents don’t love their children, it is because they are addicted to drugs and don’t know how to get help, or they become overwhelmed with an unexpected child. Many people have kids without planning to, leaving them with many questions and nowhere to turn for help. Deborah and the work of her team, provide the necessary help or guidance these families need making her exceptional at her job as a Child Protection Investigator.