Thursday, July 19, 2018
News Roundup

Florida child welfare system under-performing for foster kids, study finds

TAMPA — A federal agency has given the Florida Department of Children and Families 90 days to come up with a plan to improve its care of foster kids after a study found the state is underperforming in critical areas.

The "Children and Family Services Review" analyzed the DCF's handling of 80 foster care cases from April 1 to Sept. 30. In more than half of those cases, child welfare agencies removed children from homes without first providing appropriate services and were lax in following safety plans, the report states.

Florida also is struggling to provide counseling and therapy for every foster kid who needs them.

Overall, the DCF's performance was rated as needing improvement in 11 of 14 categories. The report was compiled by the Children's Bureau, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

It also found the DCF lacking in how well children are protected from abuse while under the state's watch and whether they have stable lives while in foster care. In some cases, the agency did not meet deadlines for initiating investigations of reported child abuse.

"This holds up a light to the people in the state and helps us see how our agency is doing," said Robin Rosenberg, deputy director of Florida's Children First, a statewide advocacy organization focused on children's rights. "For so many areas to be falling below standard is a wakeup call."

Child welfare in Florida was privatized by state lawmakers over a period of several years through 2005. The DCF contracts with 17 different "lead" agencies to manage and run foster placement and case management in 20 districts known as circuits across the state. Lead agencies subcontract with other local care providers.

As a result of the review, the DCF has scheduled a conference with agencies and other stakeholders from across the state on Tuesday to come up with ways to reform the child welfare system. The ideas generated will go into an improvement plan that will be submitted to the Children's Bureau before any federal decision on whether the DCF should face financial penalties.

"DCF takes these findings very seriously and we will work aggressively with the community-based care lead agencies to improve each item that was cited as not in substantial conformity," said DCF spokeswoman Jessica Sims. "Providing adequate services to families in times of need is an essential element to ensuring child safety and restoring families, and we are fully committed to that goal."

Among other concerns highlighted by the report are that some foster kids do not receive the physical therapy, counseling and other specialized services they need. That was true in one quarter of 67 applicable cases included in the review.

That was not a surprise to Rosemary Armstrong, executive director of Crossroads for Florida Kids, who said she sometimes has problems getting specialized therapy for children she represents who have behavioral issues or who need grief counseling. Crossroads provides pro bono legal representation for children in the foster care system.

Another concern is that children who have finished sentences in Department of Juvenile Justice commitment programs re-enter the foster care system with no clothes, she said.

"It takes so long to get clothing for the child," Armstrong said. "They need clothes for school and they need it right away."

Sims said that the DCF has provided more funding for lead agencies to hire additional case managers and provide better services and also to hire extra child protection investigators.

Still, the state has struggled to keep pace in recent years as the number of children being taken into care has risen, said Tabitha Lambert, circuit director for the guardian ad litem program in Hillsborough County.

"There's a high turnover in case management organizations and a lot of those needs may fall through the cracks," she said. "We have to take this information and see how we can improve the system."

Contact Christopher O'Donnell at [email protected] or (813) 226-3446. Follow @codonnell_Times.

Comments
St. Petersburg beef company recalls more than 6,000 pounds of meat

St. Petersburg beef company recalls more than 6,000 pounds of meat

ST. PETERSBURG — A St. Petersburg wholesale meat retailer is recalling more than 6,000 pounds of fresh and frozen beef because of possible E. coli contamination, the USDA said Thursday.Five products produced by the St. Petersburg-based Ottomanelli Wh...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Deputies: 18-year-old woman injured in Dunedin shooting is pregnant

Deputies: 18-year-old woman injured in Dunedin shooting is pregnant

DUNEDIN — A woman shot this week by a masked intruder is 20 weeks pregnant, the Sheriff’s Office said Thursday.Naomi Rosado, 18, is in intensive care at Bayfront Health St. Petersburg. The condition of her baby is unknown, the agency said.At about 1 ...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Willie Taggart, Auggie Sanchez reuniting in Tallahassee

Willie Taggart, Auggie Sanchez reuniting in Tallahassee

In a previous life, Auggie Sanchez was a disillusioned USF fullback pondering a transfer.Willie Taggart talked him into staying, obliging his desire to move to defense. A half-decade and 388 tackles later, Taggart is trying to help shape the trajecto...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Three trips in one on a whirlwind tour of Ecuador

Three trips in one on a whirlwind tour of Ecuador

"Why Ecuador?" I was asked that at least a dozen times when I told folks I had booked a short trip to the South American country. At the time, the answer was that my husband, who has an Indian passport, didn’t need a visa to visit Ecuador and...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Top 5 at noon: Body of missing diver recovered from underwater cave in Hernando; Bill Nelson gets it from both sides on Donald Trump’s SCOTUS nominee; and more

Top 5 at noon: Body of missing diver recovered from underwater cave in Hernando; Bill Nelson gets it from both sides on Donald Trump’s SCOTUS nominee; and more

Here are the latest headlines and updates on tampabay.com:BODY OF MISSING DIVER RECOVERED FROM EAGLE’S NEST UNDERWATER CAVERescue crews have located the body of a 20-year-old free diver who failed to resurface at a dangerous cave in Hernando County,...
Updated: 2 hours ago
This week in savings: Best Tampa Bay grocery deals for July 18 - 25

This week in savings: Best Tampa Bay grocery deals for July 18 - 25

It’s a regular occurrence for me: Once a week, I’ll take out all the ads that have been mailed to my house and spread them across my tiny glass table.I grab my scissors for any coupons. Pull up any apps for stores whose ads I didn’t get and laugh at ...
Updated: 2 hours ago
We asked readers for tips on how to cut down on plastics. Here are 24 ideas they gave us.

We asked readers for tips on how to cut down on plastics. Here are 24 ideas they gave us.

Many of you are passionate about how to cut down on disposable plastics. You lit up our inbox with suggestions that ranged from the everyday — use cloth shopping bags — to the cosmic — get SpaceX founder Elon Musk to build a space ship capable of dep...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Can a ‘Green Alert System’ help veterans in crisis?

Can a ‘Green Alert System’ help veterans in crisis?

The first time I met Don Bolduc was in his office in Kabul, where he served as commander of the Combined Forces Special Operations Component Command, Afghanistan. He is an Army brigadier general and I was there to talk about operations to improve Afg...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Brink: Sure, forgo straws and shopping bags, but innovation is key to tackling plastic waste

Brink: Sure, forgo straws and shopping bags, but innovation is key to tackling plastic waste

Plastic is found in everything from heart stents to fishing nets to athletic clothing. It extends the shelf life of food and improves the fuel efficiency of planes. Undoubtedly, the wonder product has made our lives easier. Unfortunately, the systems...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Tampa Bay Times’ all-Tampa Bay softball team

Tampa Bay Times’ all-Tampa Bay softball team

Hillsborough Pitcher of the Year: Ashley Blessin, Jr., Plant CityUsing her vast arsenal of pitches, Blessin went 21-6 with a 0.90 ERA and had 245 strikeouts in 162.2 innings pitched for the Class 8A, District 6 champion.Blessin was the reigning two-t...
Updated: 2 hours ago