Department of Children and Families (DCF) Secretary Shevaun Harris today outlined the successes accomplished during her first year at the Department, praising Governor and First Lady DeSantis for their innovative thinking, strong leadership, and dedication to the children and families of Florida. These accomplishments include a renewed vision for the Department that focuses on preventative, integration of programs, systems, and supports, and enhanced crisis intervention services.
“This year, the Department’s primary focus has been serving families at the first moment of impact through alignment, integration and navigation of programs, systems and supports for Florida’s families.” Secretary Harris said. “The Governor and First Lady’s unwavering and steadfast leadership for Florida’s families has renewed hope providing positive pathways for so many in our great state.”
Strengthening Support for Families and Foster Children
- The Department launched an initiative to ensure we are meeting the needs of every family by pairing child protective investigators with a behavioral health consultant when appropriate to quickly activate services for parents contending with a substance use disorder. This has resulted in over 21,000 joint visits where caregivers received immediate referral services. In 91 percent of visits in the Southeast region that included a behavioral health consultant, children were able to safely stay in their home.
- The Office of Continuing Care launched in October of 2021 to provide one-on-one support to foster youth exiting care. The Office employs advocates who were former foster youth.
- The Department continued recruiting efforts for foster parents through Florida’s Foster Information Center, which received more than 7,000 inquiries from prospective foster parents and referred more than half of those to Community-Based Care lead agencies. The Center employs current and former foster parents that answer calls from prospective foster parents.
- This year, 5,393 children were reunified, and more than 3,800 children were adopted in Florida.
- Fewer children entered foster care in 2021 than in 2020, and the entry rate has decreased 29 percent since 2015.
Improving Behavioral Health Resources for Floridians
- The Department supported First Lady Casey DeSantis to launch a $12 million dollar procurement to support the mental health needs of first responders, which will expand peer-to-peer mental health services.
- The Department supported 152,565 adults and 34,595 children through Community Mental Health Services, and 55,947 adults and 7,739 children through Community Substance Abuse Services.
- Historic $4.9 million in supplemental block grant funding were directed towards suicide prevention services. Specifically, the Department is launching the Zero Suicide Initiative, a coordinated, systemwide process for organizations to implement evidence-based suicide prevention practices.
- $4,450,000 in funding was secured to serve behavioral health needs of over 6,500 people with criminal or juvenile justice involvement over the next 3 years.
- This fiscal year, more than 22,000 individuals (4,000 more than last fiscal year) were served through Mobile Response Teams, an on-site crisis intervention service offered throughout the state that primarily serves young people under 25. Eighty percent of individuals using Mobile Response Teams were diverted from hospitals, jails, or other crisis settings.
- The Department launched quarterly behavioral health meetings between state agencies, providers, and community partners to break down barriers in coordinating mental health and substance use services.
- The Department partnered with local law enforcement and the Department of Juvenile Justice to initiate a pilot program in Volusia county which aims to reduce behavioral health crises among youth engaging in repeated delinquent acts. The program works to improve parental engagement, and coordination of crisis services to improve connectivity for families for ongoing support services. The program has been operational since October and to date has received 61 direct referrals from the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office, with 53 of those families engaging in preventative community services.
Guiding Families on Their Path to Economic Self-Sufficiency
- The Department launched Hope Florida – A Pathway to Prosperity, a new initiative spearheaded by First Lady Casey DeSantis that utilizes “Care Navigators” to guide Floridians on an individualized path to prosperity, economic self-sufficiency, and hope. In 2021, over 15,000 individuals have participated in the program, and over 11,000 were successfully connected to a community partner for help with housing, employment, or other basic needs such as food or clothing.
- Through Hope Florida – A Pathway to Prosperity, over 3,000 children were provided assistance by faith based institutions through CarePortal, a matchmaking service that allows faith-based institutions fulfill needs in real time of families in their community.
- Through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the Department assisted 3.2 million individuals and disbursed almost $7 billion in benefits. Additionally, over 60,000 individuals were helped with Temporary Cash Assistance benefits for a total annual disbursement of more than $100 million.
- The Department provided $1.6 billion in emergency nutrition assistance benefits to 1.8 million eligible children during the 2020-2021 school year.
- More than 123,000 individuals/families were able to remain safely in their homes following the COVID-19 pandemic through the OUR Florida program which distributed over $628 million in emergency rental assistance funding.