CHILD WELFARE

Florida makes progress in caring for troubled kids

 

www.chsfl.org

Every day, the most vulnerable children in our communities rely on the state’s child-protection system to make decisions and investments that will positively change the course of their lives. For some, these decisions can mean the difference between life and death — literally. During the past several months, the Legislature has focused significant attention on child welfare reform and, just recently, Gov. Rick Scott signed into law Senate Bill 1666, a critical starting point as we work toward improving this vital system of care.

We applaud lawmakers and Gov. Scott for prioritizing child welfare and approving a budget that allocates an additional $38.8 million to protect and help Florida’s at-risk children.

While the $21 million designated for hiring additional child-protective investigators and the $2.8 million for Child Protection Teams are both worthwhile investments, the Legislature also recognized the importance of life-changing services provided by case-management organizations.

Florida’s 2014 budget earmarked $10 million for these organizations to invest in programs that help families work through complicated challenges and to invest in the retention of case managers, which is proven to directly correlate with better outcomes for children.

This must be a continued, prioritized investment as the demand for such services and for qualified, experienced child-welfare professionals will only increase.

Moreover, the recently signed SB 1666 calls for key changes within the child-welfare system with a goal of improving accountability and outcomes.

Of particular importance is the added weight given to safety plans that the Department of Children & Families (DCF) has relied upon for years. Before this bill, parents could write and sign their own plans and the case could be closed.

Sadly, without DCF oversight, some children suffered the ultimate consequence of a tragic death. Now, child-protective investigators — not parents — are responsible for developing safety plans and, once in place, the case must remain opened.

If parents fail to comply and jeopardize their children’s safety, the children can be brought into care while family members receive services to work through their challenges.

This is certainly a step in the right direction. As more children and families are referred for services, however, we must ensure that funding and legislation align with the need for quality care.

A key driver of such quality is the retention of a stable, experienced workforce. SB 1666 recognizes this and allows child-welfare professionals to receive tuition exemption or loan forgiveness when they pursue degrees in social work and remain in the child-welfare field for at least five years. This investment has the potential to produce a stronger, more balanced child-protection system with experienced professionals who possess the skills to help children and families struggling with severe and complicated challenges.

While SB 1666 is a good first step toward the quantum change needed to best serve children and families, it still falls short of fully prioritizing child safety and well-being. For instance, more must be done when it comes to making decisions in the best interests of a child, particularly when it comes to pursuing the termination of parental rights. The child-welfare system and judiciary must be able to consider a parent’s comprehensive history, including past DCF involvement and previous terminations, whether voluntary or involuntary.

Moreover, when the goal for a child is reunification, legislation must allow DCF and the courts to consider any factor that would shed light on the parent’s ability to care for that child.

While Florida’s child-welfare system is moving in the right direction, much work remains. We must never lose sight of our responsibility to provide for the safety and well-being of our state’s most vulnerable children.

Shelley Katz is chairwoman for the Florida Coalition for Children and chief operating officer of Children’s Home Society of Florida.

Read more Other Views stories from the Miami Herald

  • In My Opinion

    Pitts: Don’t look for the ‘perfect’ victim

    You’ve probably never heard of Claudette Colvin. And yet, had history twisted in a slightly different direction, she might loom as large in American memory as Rosa Parks does now while Parks herself would be a little-remembered seamstress.

  •  
MCT

    READINGPALS

    Read to children, change a life

    After reading to my students, we’d walk around the library and I’d tell them: ‘Look at all of these books; soon you’ll be able to read every single one. And if you can read every book here, you can learn anything you ever want to learn. And that’s what we are going to do together,’” said Alvin Blake, the former vice mayor for the City of North Bay Village.

  •  
MCT

    DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS

    We must do more to make our correctional facilities safer

    The death of Darren Rainey has heightened our awareness that we must do more to make our facilities safer. That’s why last week we announced system-wide reforms that focus on the mental-health needs of the inmates in our facilities, operating in a more transparent manner, increasing accountability and partnering with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to streamline investigations.

Miami Herald

Join the
Discussion

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category