Ahead Of Upcoming Session, Top DCF Officials Looking At More Child Welfare Reforms

Oct 8, 2015

The head of Florida’s child welfare agency says he’s still in the process of reforming the Florida Department of Children and Families and it’s going to take a lot of work. Florida lawmakers got that update in both the House and Senate this week.

Over the past nine months, the Florida Department of Children and Families has deployed 30 teams to investigate child fatalities and make recommendations to the child welfare agency. They’re called Critical Incidents Rapid Response Teams or CIRRT teams.

“So, that means on a statewide basis, the Northwest region received 10 percent of all child abuse reports, and they’ve had one CIRRT deployed. Northeast has nine CIRRTs deployed, Central: 4, Suncoast: 11, Southeast: 4, and Southern: 1,” said Janice Thompson, DCF’s Assistant Secretary for Child Welfare.

Thompson spoke during a recent House Subcommittee meeting on Children, Families, and Seniors issues.

She says one of the areas her agency is looking into is changing the way investigations are done, based on reports from the state’s child abuse hotline.

“With our new practice, we still have to investigate whatever is reported to the hotline, but we really need to collect much more information about the family in looking at the child and how they function, looking at the parents and how they function, which would include things like their behavioral health, their parenting skills, their disciplinary practices…so, we’re gathering much more information in order to make a decision,” Thompson added.

Speaking to members of the Senate Children, Families, and Elder Affairs committee Thursday, DCF Secretary Mike Carroll says he’s disappointed in the state’s child death numbers—which the agency has come under intense scrutiny for.

“…because we have put so much effort into reducing child deaths over the past two years,” he said. “To date, this year, we have 369 child deaths called into the hotline, which puts us on track. In the last, since 2007, we have averaged about 438 child deaths per year. It ranged from a low of 409 in 2012 to a high of 470 in 2010. But, it has stubbornly stayed in that range.”

And, he predicts those numbers will be about the same again.

“The number from those child deaths are pretty consistent with what we’ve found in the past,” Carroll added. “1 in 4 of the children who are involved in a child fatality, we had some type of prior history with. 75 percent, or 3 in 4 of the kids we didn’t have a prior history with. We had some prior history with 42 percent of the families in those cases.”

Carroll says he’s continuing different efforts to get those numbers down, because they also include child deaths as a result of unsafe sleep and drowning—the top two causes of Florida child deaths.

For the upcoming legislative session, he’ll be looking to put some rules in place to reduce those numbers.

“The one ask was on the CIRRT because we wanted to close the loophole on the CIRRT and make sure that all jurisdictions understood they have an equal responsibility to take action, based on the findings of the CIRRT,” Carroll continued.

Among his other upcoming legislative priorities is developing “Adequate Service Networks,” and changing the way the agency monitors service providers.

He says he’s also in favor of a proposal from Sen. Nancy Detert (R-Venice) aimed at building on a new law extending the age of foster care youth to 21. The goal is to ensure that the older youth are placed in foster homes, rather than group homes as a default.

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter: @SaschaCordner.