Historic legislation to restore accountability and timely, comprehensive
COVID-19 response among the agency’s top accomplishments
Department of Children and Families (DCF) Secretary Chad Poppell today outlined the transformative successes achieved under Governor Ron DeSantis’ and First Lady DeSantis’ leadership in 2020. These accomplishments, which include historic legislation to restore accountability and a timely, comprehensive COVID-19 response, will allow DCF to maintain a transparent, prevention-focused approach to child welfare, while also ensuring families across the state have the behavioral health support and economic resources they need to thrive.
Meeting individuals and families before they enter into a crisis is the foundation for the critical transformation underway at DCF. As we approach 2021, we are on pace toward becoming a true prevention-focused agency, reclaiming our role in accountability, and keeping transparency at the forefront. While our immediate focus is on the child welfare system, we are also taking action to ensure all Floridians have access to robust behavioral health resources and services, and that they are able to achieve their own version of economic independence,” said DCF Secretary Chad Poppell. “I am extremely grateful to the Governor and the First Lady for understanding and supporting this holistic approach to service and our enterprise-wide goal of keeping Florida families out of crisis.
2020 Legislative Session Successes:
- The Accountability Act (Senate Bill 1326) was passed to establish a Quality Office within DCF, repurposing 125 positions to focus solely on quality. For the first time ever, the office is implementing uniform, outcome-based performance metrics and more closely monitoring frontline operations both internally and among contracted partners. They have already reviewed more than 1,700 open child welfare cases and developed processes to enhance child safety in real time. Additionally, they are initiating collaborative strategies to identify and address causes of poor performance, inform policy, and provide education and skills-based training to help improve the child welfare system.
- Thanks to the support of Governor DeSantis and Florida’s legislative leaders, CS/HB 1087 – Domestic Violence Services was passed to remove the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence (FCADV) from statute, which allowed for the quick transition of over 120 contracts and 30 staff to DCF. Now, DCF’s domestic violence system of care serves more than 1,000 survivors in shelters daily and initiates non-shelter services for nearly 3,000 survivors every month.
Building Stronger Safer Families:
- MyFloridaMyFamily.com launched in August 2020 with support from the Governor and First Lady. This online hub of resources – made available through Aunt Bertha and CarePortal – connects Florida families in need with faith institutions and community organizations that can help. Since the launch, CarePortal has reported serving 206 children, resulting in an economic impact of approximately $110,000.
- Florida’s Foster Information Center (1-83-FOSTERFL) was launched in September 2020, and it is staffed by current or former foster parents who are on standby to answer questions and provide guidance based on their own experiences. By the end of October 2020, 747 individuals submitted inquiries about fostering via phone or the website, and of those, 413 prospective foster parents were connected with their local licensing specialists to discuss next steps.
- When comparing April 2020 to April 2019, there was nearly a 40 percent decrease in reports of child abuse, abandonment, or neglect, likely because children were not in school and mandatory reporters were not interacting with them. Despite the decline, investigations were still commenced quickly, with 93 percent of alleged victims seen by a child protective investigator within 24 hours.
- By the end of March 2020, videoconferencing technology was being used by the majority of courts to conduct dependency hearings and visitations, resulting in a 16 percent increase in adoption finalizations. That month, 1,733 cases were closed through reunification, permanent guardianship, or adoption; at the start of September 2020, that total had increased to over 5,360.
- DCF’s Office of Child Care Regulation increased the total number of child care directors with the 40-hour Trauma Informed Care training from eight in July 2019 to 187 by October 2020. The course teaches these professionals – who interact with children on a daily basis – to recognize signs of trauma and create a trauma-sensitive environment.
Promoting Access to Behavioral Health Resources:
- In alignment with the First Lady’s Hope for Healing Florida initiative, which emphasizes the importance of telehealth as a service delivery method, in April 2020, Florida’s managing entities reported a shift to telehealth from traditional face-to-face services. This resulted in a more than 3,000 percent increase in telehealth utilization, and at the end of the month, over 30 percent of all services provided by the managing entities had transitioned to telehealth.
- In May 2020, the United States Department of Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) awarded DCF a $1.9 million emergency grant to address behavioral health disorders resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. The funding provides crisis intervention services, mental health and substance abuse treatment, and other related recovery supports for children and adults via telehealth technology.
- A Crisis Counseling Program was established through a nearly $5 million grant from the United States Department of Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) in response to the public health emergency. The funding expands the capacity of Florida’s network of 2-1-1 community helplines – a resource that the First Lady has championed – to provide brief crisis counseling services and make referrals for long-term treatment as needed.
- From January to September 2020, DCF’s Mobile Response Teams responded to 13,048 calls, 7,786 of which were successfully resolved and diverted from the need for additional crisis services.
- From January to September 2020, Florida Assertive Community Treatment (FACT) Teams served an average of 297,000 individuals in places where they live, work, go to school, or spend their leisure time, with the goal of preventing recurring incarceration or hospitalization and improving their overall quality of life; Community Action Treatment (CAT) Teams served 1,827 children and young adults who are at risk of out-of-home placement due to a mental health or related complex issues, for whom traditional services have not been adequate; and Family Intensive Treatment (FIT) Programs provided team-based care for 1,206 families in the child welfare system who are experiencing substance abuse issues.
- In the second year of the State Opioid Response grant, over 54,000 Narcan kits were distributed to community providers, 29,659 young adults were served through individual and group-based prevention programs, and 11,474 individuals received medication assisted treatment and associated services for opioid misuse.
- Established in October 2020, DCF’s Community Forensic Liaison Team provides oversight of the community forensic system of care, which serves adults with mental illnesses who have been charged with a felony and are either deemed Incompetent to Proceed to Trial or Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity. The team’s primary goal is to divert appropriate individuals from secure forensic facilities to more appropriate community services. To date, they have already influenced 24 diversions from state mental health treatment facilities.
- Throughout the state, DCF has six Coordinated Specialty Care programs that address the needs of adolescents and young adults experiencing early serious mental illness, including their first episode of a psychosis. These evidence-based programs enable young adults and their families to learn more about the disorder, while participating in early interventions, treatment, and supports. It has been reported that 80 percent of individuals served experience an improvement in functioning and/or a reduction in symptom severity.
Helping Families Achieve Economic Independence:
- At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, call volume and wait times for DCF’s economic self-sufficiency call centers more than doubled. To mitigate the surge, the agency increased call center agents from 300 to over 1,000 within two weeks. Since March 2020, the over 5.27 million unique calls have been answered.
- In an effort to respond quickly to the more than 400 percent increase in public benefit application volume, DCF redeployed over 700 staff members to assist with processing applications within a two-week period. This response ensured that customers received their benefits below the federal standard of 30 days; as of April 2020, applications were being processed in an average of 13 days,
- Since DCF implemented the state’s online purchasing program in April 2020, more than 284,100 public benefit recipients have utilized the option to purchase groceries online through Walmart and Amazon with their Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) cards.
- DCF worked in collaboration with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) to issue 2.2 million Florida children Pandemic-EBT (P-EBT) benefits, totaling over $687 million.
- A “chatbot” or virtual agent launched on DCF’s Economic Self-Sufficiency webpage in April 2020; since then, it has handled more than 284,000 conversations and responded to over 4,800,000 unique questions from clients.
- In August 2020, DCF established a Care Coordination program to help public benefit clients identify barriers to economic self-sufficiency and remove them with assistance from a network of over 2,400 community partners throughout the state. Currently, the program is available in two of the six DCF regions – it will expand statewide by July 2021 – serving over 1,000 clients in those areas.
- At the Governor’s direction, DCF issued mass replacements for 68,000 Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties due to the significant loss of power associated with Hurricane Sally. The agency also extended the 10-day timeframe for 179,000 SNAP recipients in several impacted counties to request replacement funds for food items lost during the storm.