Growing outrage over child deaths spur Florida lawmakers to act – with money

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Outrage over deaths of children under the state’s watch is beginning to move Florida lawmakers, who are responding with more than just policy changes — they are also starting to talk money.

Committee studies since last September on the deaths are leading to a series of intricate legislation covering a dozen of issues, including improved safety, an expanded review process, and policies to keep siblings together and medically fragile children in their home communities, reports Margie Menzel in the News Service of Florida.

However, as a Miami Herald series of investigative reports continue on the deaths of 477 children under the watch of the Department of children and Families, lawmakers began on Tuesday to take it to the next step — by discussing more money for child-protective services.

As part of the Herald reporting, it was discovered that the DCF budget shrank from $2.88 billion in 2005-2006 to $2.8 billion in the 2013-2014 fiscal years. At the same six-year period, the state budget increased from $64.5 billion to $74.1 billion

Gov. Rick Scott may have recommended nearly $40 million for 400 new child protective investigators in the upcoming fiscal budget; he has not mentioned more resources for helping children and families once they’re in the DCF system.

“Now that we’re in economic good times, an investment on the substance-abuse side would be an important step,” said George Sheldon, former Department of Children and Families Secretary and a candidate for attorney general.

The Senate passed three child-protection bills last week, but has not yet set a budgetary figure.

“It’s been the Senate’s intention right along that we will invest more money on a recurring basis in developing a child-welfare system that is more professional, that’s more effective and less porous — and hopefully, will be a system we can be proud of instead of one we can be horrified at,” Senate President Don Gaetz told the News Service.

Interim DCF Secretary Esther Jacobo said preliminary findings of an analysis of Florida’s child-welfare services system would be available as early as next week, with the full report forthcoming.

“As soon as we get that,” Jacobo said, “we can target the different areas of the state that have issues in terms of resources needed or programs needed for safety.”

“We’re going to change the system,” said House Healthy Families Subcommittee Gayle Harrell “We’re going to make it better. … We are going to do everything in our power to stop children dying at the hands of an abuser.”

“There’s going to be some money out there,” she added. “The (community-based care lead agencies) are going to get some more money, is our plan.”

 

 

 

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.