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  1. Opinion

Help families before they are in crisis | Casey DeSantis

Legislation aimed at emphasizing prevention at the Department of Children and Families is a good start, Florida’s First Lady writes.
Florida First Lady Casey DeSantis [Florida Governor's Office]

When Gov. DeSantis and I first arrived in Tallahassee, we made a promise to leave our state better than we found it. We not only made this promise as parents to our children but to the millions of Floridians and their families who have entrusted us to serve our state.

With that trust comes responsibility to be good servants to the taxpayer. Hard-working Floridians across this state pay into a government, and they expect it will faithfully serve their needs.

Ensuring accountability and transparency over governmental entities, and those with whom they do business, is imperative and frankly should be a core function of any government.

Indeed, the alarming revelations of abuse of taxpayer funds within an entity designed to help victims on domestic violence has underscored the need to double down on these efforts. To that end, I could not be prouder of the governor for issuing an executive order demanding organizations receiving public resources be held accountable.

As we enter the final three weeks of this legislative session, there’s another opportunity to ensure accountability.

At the start of session, House Speaker Jose Oliva spoke of the importance to support our child welfare system. Earlier this year, Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, with the support of Department of Children and Families Secretary Chad Poppell, introduced the DCF Accountability Act. This legislation will enable DCF to fulfill its mission to work in partnership with local communities to protect the vulnerable and promote strong and resilient families by requiring more rigorous accountability upon themselves and their partners.

The DCF Accountability Act would accomplish this in three ways:

First, the bill would shift DCF from a crisis-focused model to a prevention-focused model by empowering the agency to intervene and deliver meaningful help to families before they are in crisis – rather than responding to a crisis.

Second, DCF would create a system under which providers would be held accountable with objective criteria and metrics made available to the public so that every citizen can understand how these complex systems are performing.

Third, the bill strengthens DCF’s new Office of Quality Assurance. The office, which is led by a chief quality officer, will be able to break down silos within and outside of the agency and use evidence-based best practices to promote replication of positive outcomes. This will ensure a brighter future for our children.

I believe in this approach to prevention and collaboration, which is why in 2019 I launched my Hope for Healing Florida initiative. This effort encourages state agencies, the private sector and nonprofits to work together while emphasizing accountability for spending and outcomes. In a state with more than 23,000 children in foster care and millions of families struggling with challenges brought on by substance abuse and mental health, we owe it to Floridians to be good stewards of public resources.

This isn’t about politics. It’s about doing the right thing. To deliver on the promise of a better future for our children, those entrusted with the public good must be held accountable. Passing the DCF Accountability Act this legislative session is a good start.

Casey DeSantis is the First Lady of Florida and chair of the Florida Children and Youth Cabinet.

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