Florida's Children First

Don’t rush the decision to replace Eckerd Connects | Column

Florida’s vulnerable children deserve better than a rush job, writes a children’s advocate. Whoa! The Florida Department of Children and Families needs to slow down. The rush to select a contractor to replace Eckerd Connects may make the child welfare crisis in Pinellas and Pasco counties worse, not better. DCF must give the community enough […]

State needs to use caution with Tampa Bay foster care | Editorial

Don’t let the debate over child services, resources and governance fall victim to a rush job. The Florida Department of Children and Families is expected any day now to choose a new provider to run foster care services in Pinellas and Pasco counties. The state is up against a deadline, which is fueling a sense […]

Rush to appoint foster care agency in Pinellas, Pasco could backfire, child welfare experts warn

Three agencies on Wednesday made presentations to state officials hoping to win the $80 million foster care contract for Pinellas and Pasco counties. None are from the Tampa Bay region.   TAMPA — Florida’s privatized child welfare system is supposed to put control of foster care in the hands of local agencies who know their […]

RESCHEDULED! Beyond Adoption Finalization: Subsidies, Health Insurance, APD, SSI, Advanced Planning, and Other Supports for Special Needs Families – 11.17.21

RESCHEDULED TO 11.17.21 JOIN US VIRTUALLY FOR THIS FREE TRAINING! UNABLE TO ATTEND? REGISTER TO BE NOTIFIED WHEN THE RECORDING BECOMES AVAILABLE CLE Credits:  2.0 General & 0.5 Mental Illness Certification Credits:  2.0 Adoption Law & 2.0 Juvenile Law This training is designed for foster/adoptive families, attorneys, GALs, and child welfare workers who want to ensure […]

How many Florida children in foster care are vaccinated? The state doesn’t know

The state has more than 6,000 children in foster care 12+ HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. — As the debate rages on over how to protect children from COVID-19 and the Delta variant, and whether parents are vaccinating their kids, ABC Action News wanted to know what’s happening in cases where the parent is the state? The I-Team found, […]

Foster Care Adoption Finalization: Going beyond paper pushing to ensure your clients are protected with Maria Bates – Recorded 7.9.21

This training is geared to attorneys who have or may be asked to finalize an adoption from foster care. It will also be useful for others in the system who want to know what should be happening in adoption finalizations. Topics include…

2021 Florida Child Welfare Legislative Update – Recorded 6.28.21

Florida’s 2021 Legislative Session resulted in the passage of two bills that will have a significant impact on Florida’s child welfare system. A handful of other bills also…

Foster kids starved, beaten and molested, reports show. Few caregivers are punished.

A cache of documents pried loose after USA TODAY’s investigation in October into Florida’s child welfare system reveals allegations of foster care abuse are more widespread than previously reported. The nearly 5,000 records detail calls to the Florida Department of Children and Families abuse hotline from teachers, health care professionals, day care workers, neighbors and others […]

The Brave New World of Out of Home Care in Florida – Recorded 3.19.21

Florida is changing its array of placements for foster children to meet the requirements of the federal Family First Act. Beginning in October 2021 the federal government will stop paying for traditional group care…

2020 Tech Tuesday Training (Child Welfare Online Resources) – Recorded 9.22.20

A 90-minute tour of several websites that provide a wealth of information you can use when working with children and families involved in the child welfare system…

Young adults aging out of foster care face unique challenges during COVID-19

For young people in foster care, the uncharted times of coronavirus are even more unsettling. Since the start of pandemic, odds are you’ve received at least one email that wishes you well during “these unprecedented times.” The unknowns of this crisis are part of what make it so universally challenging. For young people aging out of foster […]

Florida Took Thousands of Kids From Families, Then Failed to Keep Them Safe

Six years ago, Florida lawmakers embraced a tough new approach to stop parents from abusing their children. They approved millions of dollars to hire more child welfare investigators and rewrote rules to make it easier to seize children from their parents. Then they told investigators to rewire their thinking. Instead of looking for every way […]

2020 Child Welfare Legislative Update – Recorded 7.31.20

Florida’s 2020 Legislative Session resulted in the passage of several bills that affect Florida’s child welfare system. High profile bills like Jordan’s Law and the DCF Accountability Act made the news. Others that…

Florida Organization Virtually Connects With Current, Former Foster Youth During Pandemic

Many Floridians are facing overwhelming challenges during the coronavirus pandemic, even young adults. Losing a job, or missing graduation, is bad enough, but it can be harsher for young adults without families. That’s why a Florida organization that works with current, and former, foster youth is trying its best to stay connected with children who […]

Report: Florida Foster Youth Often Refuse Placement After Being Moved Dozens Of Times

A series of bills about the foster care system is moving through the Florida Legislature. Rebekka Behr is focused on the Foster Youth Bill of Rights, which she says will take “all the rights that are already in law and (place) them into one document so that it makes it easier for youth to understand what their rights are […]

Get kids out of foster care quicker, state orders. But it may split up families.

The Department of Children and Families wants children out of foster care in 12 months or less. Some families may take longer to fix. TAMPA — Parents are often at their lowest ebb when they turn to Norman Palumbo. Chad Poppell, secretary of the Florida Department of Children and Families, has ordered the state’s attorneys […]

Proposed DCF changes could divert millions from South Florida or send kids here for care

TALLAHASSEE Miami-Dade and Monroe counties could lose about $11.5 million in funding for their child welfare system in the next few years, under changes that are being weighed by the state Department of Children and Families. But a potential plan to keep the existing funding in place could involve sending some of the state’s most […]

Plan to use secure facility for Hillsborough’s problem foster teens is ‘ludicrous,’ sheriff says

Hillsborough Commission Chairman Les Miller also opposes the controversial plan. He wants the county to house children at the Lake Magdalene group home. Two beds can be seen in a girl’s cottage at the Lake Magdalene group home in Tampa. The campus is owned by Hillsborough County and used to house children considered at risk […]

Problem Foster Kids Could Be Locked Up In ‘Secure’ Facility Under New Plan Pushed By Tampa Bay Child Welfare Agency

A report by a Hillsborough juvenile justice advisory board calls for a new law so judges can order treatment for foster teens who refuse placements. TAMPA — The Hillsborough boy was bounced between more than 20 group and foster homes in less than three years before he finally said “no” to another placement. His troubled […]

Child Welfare Ideas from the Experts #12: Improved Matching in Foster Care

The Chronicle of Social Change is highlighting each of the policy recommendations made this summer by the participants of the Foster Youth Internship Program (FYI), a group of 12 former foster youths who have completed congressional internships. The program is overseen each summer by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute. Each of the FYI participants crafted a policy […]

Florida Settles Lawsuit, Agrees to Improve Foster Care Placements in Miami Area

In February of 2018, the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) was hit with a federal class-action lawsuit alleging that private providers in the southern part of the state were failing to supply enough foster homes, leading to frequent shuffling of kids from one motel to the next, or into cramped group settings. Last week DCF […]

BC Waives Tuition for Youth from Foster Care, But It Could Do Even Better

Province could look to Florida or Connecticut for ideas on how to help former kids in care. By Katie Hyslop Today | TheTyee.ca Katie Hyslop is a reporter for The Tyee. Reach her here. This story was produced as part of Spotlight: Child Welfare, a collaborative journalism project that aims to deepen reporting on B.C.’s child-welfare system. The B.C. government should […]

Winter Haven College Student Adopted from Foster Care Has Zero Student Debt. Here’s Why:

  A Winter Haven man who was adopted from foster care as a child is doing something remarkable. He’s working on a postgraduate degree entirely on the state of Florida’s dime, and it’s all thanks to having been adopted. Victor Sims’s parents, Violet and Ronald, could not have children of their own, so they looked […]

States Use Tuition Waivers to Support College Enrollment of Youth in Foster Care

By: Liliana Hernandez and Angelique Day More first-generation, low-income students and students of color, including youth in foster care, are enrolling in college than ever before. However, youth in foster care continue to enroll, complete credits and graduate at lower rates than their low-income peers. Nationally, 5% of youth aging out of foster care surveyed […]

Twenty Years of Progress in Advocating for a Child’s Right to Counsel

There is much work to be done before the promise of full legal rights for dependent children is realized. By Amy Harfeld Recent disturbing headlines focusing on the trauma and injustice of separating children from their parents at the border ushered unexpected but welcome public scrutiny of the obvious injustice of these vulnerable families facing […]

Claiming Title IV-E Funds to Pay for Parents’ and Children’s Attorneys: A Brief Technical Overview

For the first time, states can now claim federal matching funds through Title IV-E of the Social Security Act to help pay the costs of attorneys representing certain children and their parents in child welfare legal proceedings.[1] Before this change, federal matching funds were available to help pay for attorneys representing child welfare agencies, but […]

Nowhere to call home: Thousands of foster children move so much they risk psychological harm

By Christopher O’Donnell and Nathaniel Lash Published Dec. 27, 2018   Justice McGuill was barely 12 when she walked into the house in Hudson, her little hands gripping tightly to a duffel bag containing her only possessions. It was her fifth foster home in a year. This one felt like a real home. Even better, it was her first […]

Saturday’s letters: Florida’s foster kids deserve a bill of rights

As a former youth in foster care, I have experienced firsthand the care of children in our state and how our childcare systems prepare youth for the transition from foster care to adulthood. While Florida has made great changes, a report recently released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation shows our outcomes are about the […]

Florida needs Bill of Rights for foster children | Opinion

Florida has made great strides when it comes to improving the system of care for children in our state, but a new report shows there is still a long way to go. Recently, the Annie E. Casey Foundation released “Fostering Youth Transitions,” a first-of-its-kind report with the most comprehensive data ever collected across all 50 […]

Lawyers are helping homeless youths

On any given night, 7,000 young people in Florida are homeless. For many, the barriers standing between them and a stable, productive adulthood include legal issues such as a poor credit report, a tangled criminal record or having no basic identification. The American Bar Association believes that homelessness among children constitutes a civil-rights issue. We have […]

FLORIDA’S CHELSEA BRAMBLETT: THE HEALING POWER OF COMMUNITY

My name is Chelsea. My childhood was spent in what many people might consider a stereotypical “broken home” with domestic violence and substance abuse as a familiar part of the equation. While my mother tried to help me and my sister, there was only so much she could do, so I found myself placed into foster […]

New Handbook Helps Florida Homeless Youth Understand Legal Rights

Share Baker McKenzie has partnered with The Walt Disney Company and nonprofit child advocacy organization Florida’s Children First in a joint pro bono effort to create the Florida Homeless Youth Handbook, an online and print resource for youth experiencing homelessness, or transitioning to adulthood without parental support. Florida will be the sixth state in the US to […]

Disney asked to take public stand on human-trafficking law

Human-trafficking victims, their advocates call on Disney to take public stand on proposed law Sex trafficking survivors spoke tearfully of betrayal by Florida lawmakers Friday as bills that would have allowed the hotel industry to be sued for willfully ignoring the problem came to a puzzling halt this week, and victim advocates called on Disney […]

Calling for ‘heart,’ lobbyist Nikki Fried announces possible run for Governor

Lawyer-lobbyist Nicole “Nikki” Fried, who specializes in medical marijuana issues, says she might run for Governor this year after coming to the conclusion the current field of Democratic candidates “need(s) a heart transplant.” “Florida Democrats are tired of losing and are looking for a new voice: Someone different, someone who isn’t afraid to speak the truth and […]

State investigation cites multiple failures in death of Largo child

It was sweltering in the bedroom of the Largo mobile home the day a child welfare case manager visited in July. Yet she left 8-month-old William Hendrickson IV there with no air-conditioning and in the care of an erratic father who had been refusing to take his medication, a newly released state investigation found. There […]

Hillsborough loses big as state fails to divide child welfare money by need

If Florida’s overburdened child welfare system has an epicenter, it’s Hillsborough County. An average of 3,600 children were in foster care in the county during 2016, the most in Florida. Hillsborough also has among the highest number of child abuse investigations and removal rates. Yet the county’s lead child welfare agency is short-changed almost $6 […]

Florida’s first responders to child abuse overwhelmed, inexperienced

The first people the state dispatches to the homes of potentially abused and neglected children in Palm Beach County are overworked and in some cases cutting corners, data show. A dozen former and current Florida Department of Children and Families child-protective investigators in Palm Beach County tell The Post and its news partner WPTV NewsChannel 5 that an inundation […]

Foster Care as Punishment: The New Reality of ‘Jane Crow’

Maisha Joefield thought she was getting by pretty well as a young single mother in Brooklyn, splurging on her daughter, Deja, even though money was tight. When Deja was a baby, she bought her Luvs instead of generic diapers when she could. When her daughter got a little older, Ms. Joefield outfitted the bedroom in […]

Eckerd Kids: Teens in group foster homes must be allowed to keep phones

For many teens still reeling from being taken into foster care, a cellphone is a lifeline, child advocates say. It’s their one connection to the world they left behind, a link to friends, romantic interests and reassuring emojis. Yet many group foster homes confiscate or heavily restrict access to cellphones. In some cases, it is […]

Three kids, seven foster children and a whole lot of love

To the kids who stay with her, Kathryn Melendez is “Mom” or “Miss Kathryn.” Some of her teenage girls even call her “Bae,” slang shorthand for “before anyone else.” The endearment is hard won. Since she began fostering in Florida in 2004, more than 200 children have arrived on Melendez’s doorstep, most of them scared, […]

Child abuse tips silenced for months by DCF computer glitch

Hundreds of reports about potential child abuse may have been overlooked for months because of a Florida Department of Children and Families computer glitch. About 1,500 tips to the Florida Abuse Hotline ­— the state’s front line for child protection — were not sent electronically to law enforcement agencies between February and April because of […]

Eckerd Kids shuts down troubled out-of-hours teen center

The agency that runs child welfare in Hillsborough County is closing a troubled out-of-hours teen center. Eckerd Kids announced Wednesday that it will terminate its contract with subcontractor Camelot Community Care to run the Ybor Heights center, which is used to temporarily house and supervise children entering the foster care system until they are placed […]

While kids slept in offices, foster beds went empty

The plight of foster children forced to sleep on air mattresses in offices last summer led to outrage and the state ordering additional oversight of Eckerd Kids, the agency that runs child welfare in Hillsborough County. But even as social workers were preparing the make-do accommodation, records show that between 10 and 21 foster beds […]

Goal of state’s new child welfare plan: more help for investigators and more foster parents

The critical decision to remove a child from a home because of abuse or neglect is based on the work of child welfare investigators. But about 80 percent of Florida’s investigators have less than two years’ experience. And more than half are juggling heavy caseloads. Fixing those problems is one focus of a new attempt […]

New bill aims to create alternative to foster care for struggling families but lack of oversight worries some

One parent losing a job, being admitted to a hospital or struggling with addiction can be difficult for any family. For a single parent, however, it can also mean losing children to the foster care system. Supporters of a proposed law hope to change that. The Temporary Care of a Child Act aims to create […]

Foster mom arrested in death of boy headed for adoption

A foster mother has been arrested in the death of a 17-month-old boy who suffered apparent head injuries just weeks before he was likely to be adopted. Latamara Stackhouse Flythe was arrested on a charge of first-degree murder and aggravated child abuse in the death of Aedyn Agminalis, who died Dec. 11 after he was […]

Foster mom of 4-year-old dropped off at wrong house says she alerted child welfare

Patricia Hunter has opened her home to children for more than 20 years. As a foster mom, she’s dealt with bed wetters and fussy eaters, kids who need endless hugs and others who don’t want to be held. Until last week, she hadn’t experienced having one of her children delivered to the wrong home. Hunter, […]

Report highlights DCF woes but way forward less clear

Florida child welfare workers too often remove children from their families without first providing counseling that could have kept them in the home, a recent federal study found. And once in the state’s care, some children don’t get physical therapy and other specialized services they need and are entitled to, the report stated. Florida Department […]

Florida child welfare system under-performing for foster kids, study finds

TAMPA — A federal agency has given the Florida Department of Children and Families 90 days to come up with a plan to improve its care of foster kids after a study found the state is underperforming in critical areas. The “Children and Family Services Review” analyzed the DCF’s handling of 80 foster care cases […]

Bob Opsahl crossed a line, changed lives forever

As journalists, we are taught to be objective. Our instincts tell us not to cross that line between our professional and personal lives. Fair and balanced, without all the conflicted connotations that now brings. Bob Opsahl failed miserably at that. He tried to keep his emotions tucked away, all in one tidy box. No feelings. […]

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