There's no doubt that little Milo Rupert would be alive today if someone in a position of authority could have intervened before the 10-month-old died of malnourishment. Conditions in the home were so atrocious that even his sisters were covered with insect bites and also suffering from malnurishment. But there's hope that a Highlands County program called Healthy Families can make a difference - at least on some level.
Milo's mom and dad were arrested after he died. His three older sisters were removed from the house and now are being cared for by a relative. But calls to the Department of Children and Families didn't work because when case workers visited, conditions at the house didn't warrant removal of the children. Milo's mother, Sandra Jackson, and his father, Kyle Lee Marsh Rupert, were charged with aggravated manslaughter in Milo's death, along with other charges.
The county is expanding the number of employees in its Healthy Families program. Last week the county commission approved adding four workers back to the program that was cut for budget purposes a few years ago. The program is to help newborns get off to a strong start by assisting the baby's parents on caring for their child and provide resources for those who need it.
Healthy Families isn't DCF, so it's not known if such a program would help in situation's such as Milo's. Severe neglect such as what Milo and his sisters dealt with probably wouldn't have been addressed. But in other cases, when parents are simply ignorant on how to properly take care of a baby, the program holds lots of promise.
To expand this program, the county received at $313,000 grant that required a $78,000 match of cash and in-kind services. At least 92 families will be served during the next fiscal year. The county's approval of this drew criticism, as to be expected, but the commission supported it. We congratulate the commissioners on their decision.
Programs such as Healthy Families won't fix every problem, but they can make a difference. It's impossible to know how many children are saved or at least helped, but there's no doubt children will benefit.
Milo's death, and the treatment of his sisters, has a lot of hearts hurting throughout this area. Let's hope any other children in need will be identified and cared for properly.