The Department of Children and Families (DCF) Secretary Chad Poppell today shared some of the high-impact successes achieved under Governor Ron DeSantis’ leadership. These accomplishments range from projects initiated by the newly-established Office of Innovation, to developments made within the agency’s largest program areas (serving nearly six-million vulnerable Floridians), all of which will contribute to the department-wide goal of reducing the number of Florida families in crisis by 20 percent by Summer 2021.
“It’s an honor and privilege to work with state and community leaders to better serve Florida’s children,” said First Lady Casey DeSantis. “In 2019, we launched Hope for Healing Florida to harness the power of the public, private, non-profit and faith-based sectors and help bring meaningful support to our families impacted by the mental health and substance abuse challenges facing our state. Through this initiative, with partners including DCF Secretary Chad Poppell, Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, Juvenile Justice Secretary Simone Marstiller, Florida Surgeon General Scott Rivkees and Agency for Healthcare Administration Secretary Mary Mayhew, we have achieved significant milestones to break down silos and reach out to community leaders, families and our kids in communities across the state. This upcoming year, I look forward to our continued collaboration and work to make a lasting difference in children’s lives.”
“I’m proud to serve under Governor DeSantis, a hard-working, dedicated leader with an unprecedented passion for improving Florida’s child welfare system,” said DCF Secretary Chad Poppell. “Since his inauguration, he and the First Lady have inspired the team at DCF – an already highly motivated, intensely committed group of individuals – as we work to fulfill our ambitious, yet critical, goals. They’ve encouraged us to think of creative solutions to existing problems; increase communication with one another and rely on our collective resources; and promote transparency and a sense of responsibility for those we serve. With their continued support, I’m confident that we will reduce the number of families in crisis and ensure Florida is a state where children can grow up safe, healthy, and happy.”
Office of Innovation Successes:
- To date, the Office of Innovation – which was established in response to a directive from Secretary Poppell in Spring 2019, intended to cultivate and implement innovative ideas from department staff – has supported 15 diverse projects, yielding the identification of seven-million work hours that can be re-purposed to serve Florida families in crisis.
- The internal Office of Well-Being is a product of the Child Protective Investigator Efficiency Project. This office will serve to support DCF employees who experience secondhand trauma and consequently, burnout, while promoting a fulfilled and balanced workforce that is equipped to achieve agency’s goals. It is also intended to increase employee satisfaction, and therefore, decrease the rate of turnover, which can be costly in terms of both time and funding.
- An evaluation of the Economic Self Sufficiency call center focused on developing strategies to leverage enhanced technologies and ultimately prevent unnecessary spending.
Child Welfare Successes:
- The department developed the Support Expert Action League (SEAL) Team to deploy to areas of Florida that are experiencing staffing issues, natural disasters, etc. resulting in in higher workloads on frontline staff and high caseloads. The SEAL Team takes full responsibility for working and safely closing the number of cases required to bring the home team down to manageable caseloads. To date, these teams have closed over 12,000 cases for Sheriffs offices throughout the state.
- Under Governor DeSantis’ direction, a nationally recognized consultant, Erik Dellenback, was hired to lead the state’s foster parent recruitment efforts, including engaging Florida’s churches and faith-based communities, developing a curriculum for foster parent recruitment, and making the foster parent licensing process as transparent and user-friendly as possible.
- A Guardianship Assistance Program was developed to provide enhanced benefits to relatives and fictive kin who choose to care for a child long term. These benefits include financial support for the child, Medicaid until the child is 18 years old, a college tuition exemption voucher for the child, and community support for both the caregiver and the child.
- The Child Protective Investigator Efficiency project, initiated by the Office of Innovation, addressed critical issues in the field and required the presentation of actionable recommendations. These ideas – most of which are still being processed or are in the early stages of development – will save over one million work hours.
- Secretary Poppell is proposing a differential approach statewide, enabling Florida Abuse Hotline staff to further evaluate calls that do not meet investigation criteria. Staff will have the ability to connect callers with community-based services that can help meet their individual needs and keep them out of crisis.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Successes:
- With First Lady Casey DeSantis’ support, 63 Telehealth portals were installed in all public schools in the six counties impacted by Hurricane Michael. These portals provide students with timely access to licensed mental health professionals within a familiar, comfortable setting, encouraging them to get the help they need, when they need it most.
- The department organized the convening of a Suicide Prevention Coordinating Council, comprised of subject matter experts and representatives from 10 other state agencies, to make findings and recommendations to the Governor and the legislature. They are also in the process of developing the 2021-2025 Florida Suicide Prevention Plan, intended to reduce the number of Floridians who tragically die by suicide (3,500 annually).
- With Secretary Poppell’s support, a needs assessment methodology for methadone opioid treatment programs (OTPs) was added to Florida Administrative Code. As a result, the department published the 2018-2019 Methadone Needs Assessment in June 2019, which established the need for 42 additional methadone OTPs.
Economic Self Sufficiency Successes:
- In October 2019, the department worked to ensure Medicaid coverage was continued for parents while their children are in a state of “temporary absence” from the home, due to child welfare safety concerns. This shift allows the parent or caregiver to retain critical benefits and access to medical services necessary for reunification with their children.
- Under the leadership of Secretary Poppell and with the goal of reducing families in crisis, a Referrals Project was implemented to help individuals receiving services or resources achieve economic independence. Since the beginning of the statewide rollout on November 1, 2019, more than 14,086 families have been referred to more than 34,000 services and programs.
- In preparation to respond to Hurricane Dorian, the United States Department of Agriculture approved DCF’s early release of September Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits within 24 hours of the request. This allowed more than 727,000 Florida households to purchase critical food supplies in preparation for Hurricane Dorian, and it was the earliest release of benefits in recent history.
- Beginning in September 2019, the Office of Public Benefits Integrity began enforcing disqualification of individuals who continue to abuse the public benefit system. Since implementation, the department has realized deterrent savings of approximately $500,000.