Friday, July 20, 2018
News Roundup

Report highlights DCF woes but way forward less clear

TAMPA — Florida child welfare workers too often remove children from their families without first providing counseling that could have kept them in the home, a recent federal study found.

And once in the state's care, some children don't get physical therapy and other specialized services they need and are entitled to, the report stated.

Florida Department of Children and Families and federal officials met last week to discuss the findings and begin work on a plan to tackle the shortcomings identified in the report. It came in a week when a Miami teenager in a foster home live-streamed her suicide on social media and a Hillsborough County child care agency dropped off a 4-year-old foster girl at the wrong home.

The federal Children and Family Services Review has once again thrown a spotlight on the state's child welfare system and raised questions about funding levels and whether the privatization of child welfare is working.

Child welfare agencies say they have done yeoman's work running a system that has received only marginal funding increases during the eight years since the Great Recession. Funding has risen in the past two years, but that has coincided with an uptick in the number of children being taken into care, they say.

To fully meet the needs of the almost 36,000 children now either in foster care or under the watch of the state would take an extra $100 million annually, said Kurt Kelly, a former state lawmaker and chief executive officer of the Florida Coalition for Children, a statewide association that represents community-based care agencies

"We have to right-size this system of care and get extra resources so we can provide these services for these children and families," he said.

But others who work in the foster care system are skeptical that funding is the only problem. Contracts with care agencies were negotiated when the number of children under the watch of the state was well above 40,000. Agencies now care for fewer children but are still not meeting national standards.

"I'm not saying there aren't gaps in funding, but I'm still concerned that when you fail on so many standards there should be an alarm that goes off," said Christina Spudeas, executive director of Florida's Children First, a statewide advocacy organization focused on children's rights. "I would be very surprised if the entire answer is funding."

Child welfare was privatized by state lawmakers over a period of several years, a process completed in 2005. DCF now contracts with 17 "lead" agencies to manage and run foster placement and case management in 20 districts known as circuits across the state.

Direct funding from DCF to those agencies totals $628 million this year — a $14 million increase over last year, DCF figures show.

Lead care agencies are required by law to subcontract some services through other care agencies. The result is that the state dollars also have to go toward several layers of CEOs and executives who run those agencies.

"The report itself is very alarming and causes us to question if it's a lack of funding or a lack of oversight of the way the dollars are being spent," Spudeas said.

The increases in lead agency funding since 2016 ended an eight-year stretch in which annual funding remained flat at $588 million. Adjusted for inflation, that amounted to a 13 percent cut, according to Florida Tax Watch. The agencies do not get more money if there is a spike in the number of children in foster care.

As recently as 2014, case managers were juggling an average of 22 children, well above DCF's standard of 14, according to the Florida Coalition for Children. High workload coupled with low pay resulted in many case managers quitting.

Turnover averaged 37 percent and in some communities was as high as 80 percent, according to a 2015 Florida TaxWatch study funded by the Florida Coalition for Children. Providing time for new case mangers to get up to speed often means children stay longer in the foster care system.

The report called for more front-end investment in services such as Healthy Families Florida, a nonprofit group that provides counseling and other in-home services to families to prevent children being taken into care.

"We only ask the state to pay more where we can get better results," said TaxWatch CEO Dominic Callabro. "You may have to pay a little bit now to avoid paying a hell of a lot more later."

Among the issues the report raised is a shortage of services provided in rural areas and cases where children and families did not get counseling, anger management and other services to tackle issues like domestic and substance abuse.

"We have a particular problem with heroin in some jurisdictions, which has made it a particular problem to leave kids in the home," DCF Secretary Mike Carroll told federal officials at last week's meeting. "We've had trouble keeping up."

In its legislative budget request, DCF's priorities include cost-of-living increases for foster homes and reducing case loads.

"We need to hold all parts of the system of care accountable for performing at the level we expect and we're absolutely committed to continue working towards positive outcomes for every family we serve," said spokeswoman Jessica Sims.

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

 
Comments
Rays journal: Replacement catcher Adam Moore ready to play

Rays journal: Replacement catcher Adam Moore ready to play

ST. PETERSBURG — The newest Rays player is also nearly the oldest.With All-Star C Wilson Ramos on the disabled list with a hamstring injury, Tampa Bay turned to veteran Adam Moore, 34, as the new backup catcher behind Jesus Sucre. Only reliever...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Martin Fennelly: Rays and Marlins at different stages of same mission

Martin Fennelly: Rays and Marlins at different stages of same mission

ST. PETERSBURG — New York Yankees god and former Tampa resident Derek Jeter, who was once going to save the Rays (or so we thought), was at Tropicana Field on Friday night. The Captain had the gall to show up as Miami Marlins chief executive of...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Dolphins owner: Actually, we haven’t decided whether to levy anthem penalties

Dolphins owner: Actually, we haven’t decided whether to levy anthem penalties

Times wiresThe NFL can't seem to get away from the divisive national anthem issue.The latest developments this week assure that, despite the league's wishes, the debate about how to handle players who kneel during the anthem to protest police violenc...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Late rally falls short as Rays lose to Marlins, 6-5

Late rally falls short as Rays lose to Marlins, 6-5

ST. PETERSBURG –The Rays rallied for four runs in the bottom of the ninth Friday night, but their rally came up short as the Marlins held on for a 6-5 win at Tropicana Field.Tampa Bay's bullpen gave up five runs in the seventh, and that was too...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Kiermaier has ‘severe bone bruise’ in foot, dates back to April injury

Kiermaier has ‘severe bone bruise’ in foot, dates back to April injury

Rays outfielder Kevin Kiermaier left Friday's game in the fifth inning when an injury to his right foot that has bothered him since April flared up with the worst pain he's encountered this season.Kiermaier called the injury a "severe bone bruise" an...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Greg Auman’s takeaways from Friday’s Rays-Marlins game

Greg Auman’s takeaways from Friday’s Rays-Marlins game

Nathan Eovaldi bounced back nicely following an eight-out, eight-run outing last week vs. the Twins. He lasted six innings, gave up one run and struck out eight. Take away the Twins game and Eovaldi has allowed three earned runs in his past four star...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Shooting outside McDonald’s in South Tampa leaves man in critical condition

Shooting outside McDonald’s in South Tampa leaves man in critical condition

TAMPA — Tampa police are investigating a shooting that occurred Friday night at a McDonald’s restaurant at 3515 S Dale Mabry Highway.Police responded around 7:30 p.m. after a man was shot around a dark grey Dodge Charger in the back corner of the res...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Pasco sheriff: Woman faked kidnapping attempt on her daughter to frame former business partner

Pasco sheriff: Woman faked kidnapping attempt on her daughter to frame former business partner

HOLIDAY — The mother of a 12-year-old girl was arrested Thursday after authorities said she faked a kidnapping attempt on her daughter in an effort to frame a former business partner.After the mother was taken into custody, detectives said she tried ...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Sheriff’s Office warns of IRS phone scams in Pinellas County

Sheriff’s Office warns of IRS phone scams in Pinellas County

Beware of callers saying they’re with the IRS and demanding payments, the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office warned Friday.According to a news release from the agency, scammers have been phoning residents across the county this week and trying to trick...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Rays’ Kevin Kiermaier leaves game with foot discomfort

Rays’ Kevin Kiermaier leaves game with foot discomfort

Rays outfielder Kevin Kiermaier, who missed two months earlier this season with a thumb injury, left Friday night's game against the Marlins with what the team described as "right foot discomfort."It wasn't immediately clear when the injury occurred,...
Updated: 5 hours ago