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DCF Officials Review Fla. Child Welfare System, Look Ahead To Future Legislative Help

Florida Department of Children and Families twitter

Florida’s child welfare officials are doing a review of their system and already looking ahead legislatively on the state and national level on what can be done to further help children within the system.

This year marked the 20th Anniversary of Florida’s Child Protection Summit, hosted by the state Department of Children and Families. The summit allows for child welfare professionals and other stakeholders to collaborate and exchange best practices that will help address DCF’s needs.

DCF Secretary Mike Carroll says his agency has made a lot of strides with the state’s foster care children.

“Despite all the dedication of the folks in the room, there are those who are going to criticize the system and sometimes rightfully so,” said Carroll, at the time. “We are a system that struggles to get it right every time. But, to say, ‘we haven’t improved at all in the last 20 years,’ it’s just not right! You know? I’ve heard that lately mostly from the press, ‘how has your system changed in 20 years? How has it gotten better? In many ways, you’re worse. Well, I think that’s the farthest thing from the truth.”

In fact, Carroll says in the last two decades, the stats don’t lie.

“We’ve reduced the number of kids in Out-Of-Home Care from 30,000 in 2001 to just over 24,000 in June of last year,” he added. “That’s a 20 percent reduction, and that’s including the increase in kids that we’ve experienced the past two and half years ago. We’re still 20 percent below where we were 16 years ago. And, Florida’s child population has increased in the last 16 years, faster than any other state.”

Still, according to DCF’s latest annual performance report, the total number of foster kids placed in what’s called “Out of Home Care” has been on the rise since June 2013.

That’s around the time DCF had a number of Secretaries. Carroll has had the job officially for close to 3 years.

But, the same report notes that in that same time, child protective investigators, or CPIs, did increase the number of child abuse and neglect allegations they looked into by more than three percent per the Florida Abuse Hotline.

Meanwhile, the CPI workload—which has led to high turnover within the agency—has been looked at during past legislative sessions. And, it’s something Carroll says he continues to look into.

The investigative workload—which has led to high turnover within the agency—has been scrutinized during past legislative sessions. And, it’s something Carroll says he continues to look into.

“The elephant in the room for our frontline staff is workload, and I think leaders in the state—including me—need to make a commitment to providing a balance for the folks who do this work and we have to be able to provide them the tools and times to work with families in a way that produces meaningful, positive outcomes,” Carroll continued. “It starts with making a commitment to fully optimize the resources that we already have. It means that we have to be open to, and constantly evaluating how we do the work and we have to be willing to sometimes change the way we do the work.”

Meanwhile, Deputy Secretary David Fairbanks is worried over the renewal of a waiver that allows DCF to receive and allocate federal funding for different child welfare programs. It includes funds for foster care and services to prevent children from going into the foster care system. But, the “Title IV-E” funding waiver is set to expire next year.

“Federal law now says, ‘no more waivers after October 2019.’ That’s really bad for us, and we need to use our adaptability to deal with it,” said Fairbanks. “We’re going to have to make some serious and critical changes. I think for some folks it’s going to feel administratively burdensome. We haven’t done this for 20 years. Who dreamed up this Back to the Future move? We’re going to have to restore and improve our effectiveness in establishing the fact that individual children meet IV-E criteria.”

A DCF spokesman says the department is working with the federal administration to seek an extension through 2019 for the waiver. But, for now, DCF is reviewing all their options, including if lawmakers may be able to making any changes to state law to provide help in the absence of the waiver.

“So, we’re very concerned about that,” Fairbanks added. “It’s going to be a major focus for us in terms of child welfare in the next session. The point is we know how to adapt, we know how to adjust, and we’ve got a biggie coming, and we’re going to come out well on the other side.”

In the meantime, both Fairbanks and Carroll says they continue to try and look at DCF’s successes, like the 50,000 kids that have been adopted over the past 15 to 16 years. SOC

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

Sascha Cordner has more than ten years of public radio experience. It includes working at NPR member station WUFT-FM in Gainesville for several years. She's worked in both radio and TV, serving in various capacities as a reporter, producer and anchor. She's also a graduate of the University of Florida with a bachelor's degree in telecommunications. She is the recipient of 15 awards from the Associated Press, Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), and Edward R. Murrow. Her award-winning stories include her coverage on the infamous “Dozier School for Boys” and a feature titled "Male Breast Cancer: Lost in the Sea of Pink." Currently, Sascha serves as the host and producer of local and state news content for the afternoon news program "All Things Considered" at WFSU. Sascha primarily covers criminal justice and social services issues. When she's not reporting, Sascha likes catching up on her favorite TV shows, singing and reading. Follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter:@SaschaCordner.