Florida Department of Children and Families

Florida Department of Children and Families

Florida Department of Children and Families officials say the deaths of four children in six weeks in May and June have led to meaningful changes in the organization.  But the agency’s critics say the fixes don’t go far enough.

The Florida Department of Children and Families is retraining more than 5,000 case workers in an effort to stave off future deaths of children in the agency’s care. But DCF Secretary David Wilkins says there’s no guarantee a child will never die on their watch again:

With summer just around the corner, that’s when many parents send their children to Summer Camp. But, Lauren Book says it’s important that parents arm themselves with information that can keep their kids safe from sexual abuse. Book is a sex abuse survivor, who partnered with the Florida Department of Children and Families to provide tips for parents.

Florida’s new foster care reforms are in the national spotlight, after Congressional leaders held a hearing Thursday to look into different efforts to help those in the foster care system around the nation.

A bill extending the age for those aging out of Florida’s foster care system is now heading to the Governor. The measure aiming to help foster care kids have more of an advantage when they enter into adulthood has now passed the full state Legislature.

“You know, I hear a lot of my peers saying oh, I can’t wait until I turn 18. I tell them yes you can because if you think you’re turning 18 to be grown? No,” said Kierra Perkins.

Growing up in the foster care system wasn’t easy for Kierra, and it was even harder when she had to set out on her own when she turned 18.

Florida lawmakers are hoping to make kids who age out of the foster care system self-sufficient when they go out on their own. A bill that aims to do just that passed with bipartisan support Wednesday in a House budget panel.

Today, there’s about 3,000 young adults aging out of the foster care system, and are in a program called “Road-To-Independence.” That program allows these kids to get financial assistance.

To be eligible, the young adult must be a former foster kid, must be at least 18, and either enrolled in high school or have earned a high school diploma.

Last year, Florida lawmakers put a new law on the books that expands the requirement for reporting child abuse in the state. But, the measure contained a glitch that resulted in double reports in some cases, and one lawmaker is hoping to fix that.

Sascha Cordner / WFSU-FM

The Florida Department of Children and Families is ramping up the state’s abuse hotline. The agency says the horrific death of a ten-year-old girl last year may have been avoided if it had coordinated its information better through the hotline. The child welfare agency says it has a new system that will better serve the state’s most vulnerable citizens.

"Thank you for calling the Florida Abuse Hotline. This is Passion. How can I help you,” asked Passion Ellis, who works for Florida Abuse Hotline.

An initiative is underway to help several families and groups that are struggling this holiday season. State officials are asking Floridians for their support as part of “Operation Santa Cause” Holiday Campaign.

The “Operation Santa Cause”---that's cause, not clause---campaign is an effort by the Florida Department of Children and Families to help those who are in need this holiday season. Department spokeswoman Erin Gillespie:

At any given time there are about 800 children up for adoption in Florida. Those are kids whose  parents have had their parental rights terminated by a judge. And it’s those kids, that the state has a hard time trying to place. The Department of Children and Families and other groups are working hard to find them forever homes.

It’s a good day for 15-year-old Savannah Walker.

“I’m really excited, I’m relieved it’s over, cause it’s a really long process, but I’m really excited about the adoption.” 

The Florida Department of Children and Families is reporting that they’ve seen an increase in the number of children who are adopted out of the state’s foster care system. The department experienced an 8-percent increase, even as the number of children available for adoption is on the decline because they increased the amount of services to keep as many kids with their families.

Every year, millions of children become human trafficking victims. But, when they’re taken in by law enforcement, it’s not an uncommon practice to place these victims within the criminal justice system. And, to combat that practice, Florida’s child welfare agency is preparing to implement a new law by next year that will help the trafficking victims.

Over medication and improper supervision may have caused the deaths of three patients at a privately run mental health facility in Florida last year.  That’s what a recently completed investigation by the Florida Department of Children and Families revealed when it looked into GEO Care’s South Florida State hospital.

The Department of Children and Families is expanding its “Camps for Champions” to more than a dozen locations across the state.

The camps are meant to build the character and self-esteem of foster children in Florida using high profile mentors, and opened in 2009 with the help of NFL star Myron Rolle, who joined the effort to teach fitness, wellness, and leadership to foster kids. In addition to the star studded cast of mentors the camps employ, they also feature programs like “Camp Sib” which is meant to reunite siblings separated after being put into foster care. 

Research shows that parents have the most influence on whether teenagers choose to drink alcohol, and the Florida Department of Children and Families is warning parents to monitor their teens to make sure they don’t drink alcohol over the Memorial Day weekend.