Fair funding needed for Tampa Bay child welfare system Column: An adequate, fair funding is needed for Tampa Bay child welfare system

Each day that goes by without our local systems being properly funded puts children at increased risk.
Published Jan. 28, 2019

Eckerd Connects has a long history of partnering with our community in operating the largest child welfare system in Florida. Our system of care has historically been one of the highest performing jurisdictions statewide. However, we are reaching a breaking point.

The underlying issues bringing children and families into the system, such as the opioid epidemic, domestic violence and housing have stressed our community's resources, thus creating greater risk for our families and increasing the number of children in foster care. Yet as a state, we fail to adequately fund the child welfare system.

This rapid growth during the past three years has resulted in a staggering 33 percent net increase of youth requiring out-of-home care placement in Pinellas and Pasco counties and a 28 percent net increase in Hillsborough County. These increases resulted in higher cost, increased case loads, insufficient foster care capacity and an overstressed workforce that has faced insurmountable challenges as they struggle to handle the increased volume.

Last year, the population growth experienced by our Tampa Bay child welfare programs resulted in a budget shortfall of $9.3 million for our community. This year, that deficit has grown to $11.5 million for our Tampa Bay child welfare system.

As a comparison, the Miami-Dade lead agency has a child welfare population of 2,136 children and receives approximately $74 million in core funding, nearly $34,000 per child, to serve this population. In contrast, Hillsborough serves 1,100 more children than Miami-Dade and receives only $17,000 per child. Pasco and Pinellas counties serve 773 more children than Miami-Dade and receive only $15,000 per child.

Eckerd Connects is not suggesting the Miami-Dade system has more dollars than it needs. We are simply trying to illuminate that Tampa Bay's system is critically underfunded, which prevents our families from getting the services they need.

In September 2018, Eckerd Connects utilized our private foundation funding to sponsor a symposium with the objective of solving the funding challenges. As a result, both national and state child welfare experts recommended that Florida initiate an estimating conference to fund our child welfare system adequately and have the funding follow the child, which is what is done in Medicaid and the education system.

Each day that goes by without our local systems being properly funded puts children at increased risk. The lack of funding impacts our entire system and has resulted in the headlines that have painted a picture of continued shortcomings despite the direct correlation between our ability to properly fund case management services and child safety.

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We are asking the Tampa Bay community to join our cause in reaching out to our legislators to advocate for a fair appropriation of resources. Together, we can address the root cause of our system challenges and make a real difference on behalf of the children and families served.

V. Raymond Ferrara and Joseph W. Clark are, respectively, the Pasco/Pinellas and the Hillsborough committee chairs of Eckerd Connects, the agency that runs foster care Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas counties.