Former foster kids in a program that helps them transition into responsible adulthood don't have time for another study of the program's shortcomings. They need the Legislature and the Department of Children and Families to act now to fix the problems that have long been identified.
Reports by state auditors and others have repeatedly pointed to the same basic issues. The young people in the state's Independent Living Program may not be living in safe conditions or getting a decent education in preparation to enter the workforce because there is not enough oversight into the quality of the services provided them. Another year of study will only delay the implementation of recommendations that have been sitting around for years.
Children in this program, who are up to 18 years of age, are supposed to be given the skills they need for self-sufficiency and be well supervised in the interim. But in 2007 the state's Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability identified a glaring problem that had been highlighted in prior reports. DCF does not collect enough detailed follow-up information from the community-based caregivers to know how former foster children are doing. For example, the report noted that there is no process for assessing whether a young person who receives life skills training — which is mandatory — actually gets an education or the job skills he needs.
This failure of quality supervision has meant young people are too often left unprepared for a life on their own, sometimes with tragic consequences. Seventeen-year-old Jasmine Bedwell was in the state's Independent Living Program in Hillsborough County when her boyfriend allegedly killed her 3-month-old son by tossing him out of a moving vehicle. Her case manager was unaware of the boyfriend's criminal background.
The Senate's Children, Family and Elder Affairs Committee, chaired by Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Brandon, wants to audit the program again — for the fourth time in six years. That's just more delay. Instead Storms should work toward giving DCF the resources and tools necessary to ensure they have the supervision, housing, transportation, health services, education, job training and life skills to succeed in life.