“Although the media circus surrounding the contest has created an environment where it’s hard to see anything else, the non-partisan Children’s Campaign has kept its focus on the ‘what’ of policy rather than ‘who’ will be the policy leaders of tomorrow,” the group said in an email. “As it has after every election cycle, when the spectacle has run its course, The Children’s Campaign is dedicated to ensuring that proven research and the best interests of children are included in the coming year’s policy discussions and decisions.”
The Children’s Campaign got a lot of its priorities through the Legislature last year, though improvements to child welfare reform, specifically the quality of out-of-home care, died in the early days of the 2016 Session.
The campaign will continue the fight this year, emphasizing investment in quality instead of quantity for out-of-home care, and will stand against any weakening of licensing, health, or safety regulations for caregivers and facilities.
The Children’s Campaign also wants an expansion of the Early Steps Program, a program that provides support and services to delayed infants to try and keep them on track developmentally.
The program got more funding last session and was expanded to include an estimated 1,000 more Florida children, and the campaign said it will keep its eye on the program to analyze its effectiveness and to identify any needs that could be met in a future expansion.
Among the group’s other top priorities is continued funding in support of victims of sex trafficking. The Children’s Campaign fought for HB 545 in 2016, which moved toward decriminalization of sex trafficking victims and in 2017 the group said it will push to “set the stage for expansion as needed.”
The campaign also plans to work on policy that will cut the number of Florida children with rap sheets, by increasing the use of civil citations in lieu of arrests and by reducing the number of children tried as adults in criminal proceedings.
The group backed a pair of bills last year, HB 7085 and SB 408, that would have increased the use of civil citations, though the bills stalled due to criticisms they would remove law enforcement officers’ discretion by requiring citations for certain crimes.
This year, The Children’s Foundation said it supports officer discretion, but is seeking legislation that would require documentation of why officers chose to arrest a minor for a crime eligible for a civil citation.
In the same vein, the group said it would continue the fight to limit prosecutors’ ability to transfer children to adult court for certain felony offenses, such as drug or property crimes, as well as misdemeanors. The group noted minors who go through the adult criminal justice system are much more likely to reoffend later in life.
Republican Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla and Democratic Rep. Katie Edwards pushed legislation that would reduce the number of children tried as adults last year. Diaz de la Portilla’s version passed the Senate, but died in the House without a vote.
The Children’s Campaign also plans to take a bigger interest in girls’ issues this year by supporting legislation to provide specialized services for developmentally challenged girls in the juvenile justice system, who the group said doesn’t have access to proper community-based or residential programs.
Additionally, the campaign said it will work to expand “Continuity of Care,” a program in Northeast Florida to increase access to therapeutic services and advocacy within a continuity of care for girls who are on probation, in detention, in residential placement, or transitioning back to the local community. The campaign said it plans to push for at least one more Florida court circuit to get funding for the program.
The Children’s Campaign’s full 2017 Legislative Agenda can be found here.