On June 23, 2014, Governor Rick Scott signed a bill from the state legislature that would dramatically change Florida’s child welfare system.
The bill, which was unanimously approved by the legislature in May 2014, as discussed in a previous post, contains significant changes for nearly every portion of the state’s child welfare system.
The new law is designed to replace a policy created a decade ago that was designed to reunite or keep families together.
While a laudable goal on its face, it had the very negative effect of reuniting children with troubled parents who in some cases were not fit to raise them.
Motivated by the Innocents Lost
The bill was motivated, at least in part, by a series in the Miami Herald called the Innocents Lost, which depicted the deaths of 477 children whose families were known to have some level of problems and had some record with the state social services office.
The bill is designed to end the epidemic of injury and death to small children who were left in unsafe living arrangements.
The state’s child welfare administrators are to now place the child’s needs first, above the needs of maintaining family unity. The law is designed to give the state more power to remove children from dangerous living situations involving troubled, drug-addicted, or violent parents.
Overhaul of Safety Plans
Previously, when state welfare officials issued warnings about the care that a child was receiving at home, they would often issue the parents a safety plan, which provided guidance on what to do better. The new law will also have the state agency overhaul these plans to make them more effective.
Better Investigators in DCF
The Florida Department of Children & Families is also being revamped to improve its investigations regarding child welfare. The law establishes a new assistant secretary for child welfare whose sole duty is to monitor the welfare of children in the state’s system.
The law also provides for additional training and hiring incentives to improve the quality of investigators and social workers who work at DCF. To encourage social workers with advanced degrees to work at DCF, the law permits the agency to provide tuition reimbursement to new hires.
The law also provides a much-needed cash infusion for the agency, which is believed to have a budget crunch and provide low pay for its employees.
The law may bring$44.5 million in new funding to DCF, which will allow the agency to hire new investigators, as well as to send pairs of investigators to review high-risk or complex cases, as well as start a new drug rehabilitation program for parents.
Stricter Oversight of DCF
In addition to providing DCF with more tools to combat child neglect, the agency will also be subject to greater outside scrutiny and oversight.
For example, the law will require the DCF to list the deaths of all children five years old and under who die from abuse or neglect and permit a think tank to oversee the investigations into the deaths of those children.
DCF supervises the welfare and foster care, and potential adoption, of children throughout Florida.
Adoption Lawyers Florida
Contact the Law Offices of Aliette H. Carolan for questions on family law including adoption, surrogacy and other reproductive law questions in Florida at 305-358-2330.