Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Legislators propose improvements to 'porous' child welfare system

TALLAHASSEE — After a year of damaging news reports about child deaths from abuse and neglect, a Florida Senate committee on Tuesday passed a package of proposals intended to improve the quality and quantity of regulation over the state's child welfare system.

The wide-ranging bills proposed by the Senate Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee are intended to improve what Senate President Don Gaetz called "a porous system" that has led to hundreds of child deaths under the state's watch.

"We need to professionalize and make more effective our approach to child welfare in the state and then plug the side doors and the holes and windows, which I think make for a system that's way too porous,'' Gaetz told reporters Tuesday.

Under the proposals, the state Department of Children and Families would be required to increase the educational expertise of the child abuse investigators, create a website to report basic facts about child deaths reported to the child abuse hotline and mobilize a trained team to analyze the cause of deaths.

The bills would also increase the coordination of children deemed "medically complex" and require the state to place many of these children — who are now housed in a small number of nursing homes — in medical foster homes when possible.

"Back in the summer, we were all shocked and concerned about child abuse deaths brought to our attention by the Miami Herald newspaper,'' said Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, chairwoman of the committee. "We've identified several problems, and our bills contain recommended solutions."

Gaetz said that the bills will also require "tens of millions more in recurring funding" but did not say how much the Legislature's proposed budget will include. Gov. Rick Scott has proposed adding $42 million for additional child protective investigators and $8 million for sheriff's investigations.

"Oftentimes you get what you pay for, and I think in child welfare we have gone on the cheap, and I think that's been a mistake,'' Gaetz said.

A key element of the plan increases the professional expertise of the child abuse investigators working for the agency by requiring that 80 percent of them have a college degree in social work.

The program would grandfather in existing employees and offer some tuition exemptions or up to $3,000 a year in loan payments if they choose to pursue a social work degree.

"We send firefighters to fight fires. We need to send social workers to address social problems,'' Sobel said.

Another portion of the bill directs DCF to keep siblings together when placed into foster case.

Howard Talenfeld, a children's rights advocate and president of Florida's Children First, called the bill "a good first step" but he said investigations should extend beyond the current 60-day limit. He urged the committee to refine the bill to extend the time in which the investigation can occur and allow caseworkers to implement a safety plan when there is a chance for future crisis.

"After 60 days, it's over," he said. "There's no one watching the children."

Legislators propose improvements to 'porous' child welfare system 03/11/14 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 11, 2014 11:21pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Review: Mumford and Sons shower Amalie Arena with love in euphoric Tampa debut

    Blogs

    There are releases, and then there are releases. And minutes into their concert Wednesday at Amalie Arena, Mumford and Sons gave Tampa the latter.

    Mumford and Sons performed at Tampa's Amalie Arena on Sept. 20, 2017.
  2. FEMA to open disaster recovery center in Riverview

    Hurricanes

    The Federal Emergency Management Agency said it will open a disaster recovery center Thursday in Riverview for Hillsborough County residents impacted by Hurricane Irma.

  3. Life sentence for man convicted in killing of brother of Bucs' Kwon Alexander

    Bucs

    An Alabama man who shot and killed the 17-year-old brother of Bucs linebacker Kwon Alexander in 2015 was sentenced to life in prison Wednesday, the Anniston (Ala.) Star reported.

  4. Remember him? Numbers prove Ben Zobrist is one of greatest Rays of all time

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — The first foray back to the Trop by the best manager the Rays have had obscured the second return visit by arguably the second-best player in franchise history.

    Figures.

    Chicago Cubs second baseman Ben Zobrist (18) grounds into a double play to end the top of the third inning of the game between the Chicago Cubs and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017.
  5. GOP's new repeal bill would likely leave millions more uninsured, analyses suggest

    Health

    WASHINGTON — The latest Republican bid to roll back the Affordable Care Act would likely leave millions of currently insured Americans without health coverage in the coming decades, and strip benefits and protections from millions more, a growing number of independent studies suggest.

    Vice President Mike Pence listens as President Donald Trump talks to reporters about the Graham-Cassidy health care bill during a meeting with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi at the Palace Hotel during the United Nations General Assembly, Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017, in New York. [Evan Vucci | Associated Press]