Bipartisan Proposal to Reform Florida’s Child Welfare System Earns Unanimous Support
Tallahassee — The Florida Senate today unanimously passed Senate Bill 1666, Child Abuse and Child Welfare Services, a comprehensive bi-partisan child welfare reform package outlined earlier this year as a joint priority of Senate President Don Gaetz (R-Niceville) and House Speaker Will Weatherford (R-Wesley Chapel). The legislation was immediately certified to the Florida House. Funding associated with the legislation will be outlined in the General Appropriations Act.
“The goal of this bipartisan legislation is to build on our more than $1.3 billion existing commitment to child welfare through targeted policies that aim to prevent child deaths due to maltreatment, to learn from tragedies we cannot prevent, and to expand the resources needed to help families stay whole and healthy,” said President Gaetz. “While government’s ability to prevent all horrific crimes is limited, this legislation will ensure that we have the leadership and resources to do more. I am grateful to Senator Sobel, Senator Detert, Senator Grimsley and Majority Leader Benacquisto for their tireless dedication to moving this legislation forward during the 2014 Legislative Session.”
A sweeping overhaul of Florida’s troubled child welfare system, Senate Bill 1666 seeks to improve the quality of child abuse investigations conducted by the Department of Children and Families (DCF) and certain sheriff’s offices by increasing child welfare expertise in the department, improving child abuse investigator qualifications, and creating a consortium of schools of social work to advise state government on child welfare policy.
“Florida’s ability to effectively protect children depends on recruitment and retention of qualified frontline and supervisory staff to apply critical thinking skills to issues of safety and risk for investigations, case management, and provision of other family services,” said Senator Sobel (D-Hollywood), who chairs the Senate’s Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee. “We may not be able to prevent every tragedy, but keeping experienced professionals with expertise in child welfare is vital to improving Florida’s record for protecting children and promoting strong families.”
“The knowledge and experience of child welfare experts in Florida’s universities is underutilized by the current system,” continued President Gaetz. “Through this legislation, state universities with schools of social work can provide research, policy analysis, performance evaluation, and leadership development.”
Senate Bill 1666 directs the DCF to conduct immediate investigations of deaths and other significant incidents involving children who have been known to the child protection and child welfare system. The purpose of the investigations is to identify root causes and to rapidly determine the need to change policies and practices related to child protection and child welfare.
“While Florida’s continued priority is the prevention of child deaths due to maltreatment, the potential to learn from tragedies in order to continuously improve the child welfare system should be maximized through use of a systematic, timely, and consistent process of root cause analysis and statewide dissemination of recommended improvements,” said Senator Benacquisto (R-Fort Myers), “This legislation will put into place a strong accountability system.”
“Senate Bill 1666 prioritizes efforts to keep siblings in the dependency system together and also allows nonrelatives who volunteer to care for children in the dependency system to be reimbursed for the cost of caring for the child,” said Senator Detert (R-Venice). “By helping keep siblings together and allowing nonrelative caregivers to start receiving reimbursement, we are making two common sense fixes to our system that are long overdue.”
“Families’ efforts to care for medically complex and fragile children in their homes should be supported through state policy and provision of home and community based services,” said Senator Grimsley (R- Sebring). “This legislation will help the state maintain an active and effective partnership with local communities for the provision of child protection and child welfare services.”
The bill provides a definition of “medical neglect” and requires improvements in the care of medically complex children and the investigation of child abuse cases involving such children. The bill creates a new part of state law to be entitled “Community-Based Child Welfare.” In this new section, current law relating to community-based care is reorganized, obsolete provisions are removed, and certain provisions are clarified.
“Florida’s statutes are out-of-date and do not provide a clear delineation of roles and responsibilities for the many partners in community based care,” concluded President Gaetz. “Revising and updating the statutes will allow the Legislature to set goals, priorities, and a viable policy framework for community based care.”
For more information, please visit www.FLSenate.gov.