Senate Approves Comprehensive Legislation to Protect Vulnerable Children

Bipartisan Proposal to Reform Florida’s Child Welfare System
Earns Unanimous Support

Tallahassee–The Florida Senate today unanimously passed Senate Bill 1666, Child Abuse and Child Welfare Services, a comprehensive bi-partisan child welfare reform package outlined earlier this year as a joint priority of Senate President Don Gaetz (R-Niceville) and House Speaker Will Weatherford (R-Wesley Chapel). The legislation was immediately certified to the Florida House. Funding associated with the legislation will be outlined in the General Appropriations Act.

“The goal of this bipartisan legislation is to build on our more than $1.3 billion existing commitment to child welfare through targeted policies that aim to prevent child deaths due to maltreatment, to learn from tragedies we cannot prevent, and to expand the resources needed to help families stay whole and healthy,” said President Gaetz. “While government’s ability to prevent all horrific crimes is limited, this legislation will ensure that we have the leadership and resources to do more. I am grateful to Senator Sobel, Senator Detert, Senator Grimsley and Majority Leader Benacquisto for their tireless dedication to moving this legislation forward during the 2014 Legislative Session.”

A sweeping overhaul of Florida’s troubled child welfare system, Senate Bill 1666 seeks to improve the quality of child abuse investigations conducted by the Department of Children and Families (DCF) and certain sheriff’s offices by increasing child welfare expertise in the department, improving child abuse investigator qualifications, and creating a consortium of schools of social work to advise state government on child welfare policy.

“Florida’s ability to effectively protect children depends on recruitment and retention of qualified frontline and supervisory staff to apply critical thinking skills to issues of safety and risk for investigations, case management, and provision of other family services,” said Senator Sobel (D-Hollywood), who chairs the Senate’s Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee. “We may not be able to prevent every tragedy, but keeping experienced professionals with expertise in child welfare is vital to improving Florida’s record for protecting children and promoting strong families.”

“The knowledge and experience of child welfare experts in Florida’s universities is underutilized by the current system,” continued President Gaetz. “Through this legislation, state universities with schools of social work can provide research, policy analysis, performance evaluation, and leadership development.”

Senate Bill 1666 directs the DCF to conduct immediate investigations of deaths and other significant incidents involving children who have been known to the child protection and child welfare system. The purpose of the investigations is to identify root causes and to rapidly determine the need to change policies and practices related to child protection and child welfare.

“While Florida’s continued priority is the prevention of child deaths due to maltreatment, the potential to learn from tragedies in order to continuously improve the child welfare system should be maximized through use of a systematic, timely, and consistent process of root cause analysis and statewide dissemination of recommended improvements,” said Senator Benacquisto (R-Fort Myers), “This legislation will put into place a strong accountability system.”

“Senate Bill 1666 prioritizes efforts to keep siblings in the dependency system together and also allows nonrelatives who volunteer to care for children in the dependency system to be reimbursed for the cost of caring for the child,” said Senator Detert (R-Venice). “By helping keep siblings together and allowing nonrelative caregivers to start receiving reimbursement, we are making two common sense fixes to our system that are long overdue.”

“Families’ efforts to care for medically complex and fragile children in their homes should be supported through state policy and provision of home and community based services,” said Senator Grimsley (R- Sebring). “This legislation will help the state maintain an active and effective partnership with local communities for the provision of child protection and child welfare services.”

The bill provides a definition of “medical neglect” and requires improvements in the care of medically complex children and the investigation of child abuse cases involving such children. The bill creates a new part of state law to be entitled “Community-Based Child Welfare.” In this new section, current law relating to community-based care is reorganized, obsolete provisions are removed, and certain provisions are clarified.

“Florida’s statutes are out-of-date and do not provide a clear delineation of roles and responsibilities for the many partners in community based care,” concluded President Gaetz. “Revising and updating the statutes will allow the Legislature to set goals, priorities, and a viable policy framework for community based care.”

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Alexia Nechayev

FYS Events & Meeting Chair
(Palm Beach)

Hello, My name is Alexia Nechayev. I am 25 years old and I am an alumna of Florida International University where I received my B.A. in Psychology. My future career goal is to be a Lawyer. I was in care for about one year from age 17 to 18. Prior to entering care, I only knew about the negative stigma regarding foster care and while in care that narrative was unfortunately my experience.

In school I felt like I was on display because my status in care was broadcast to other students and in my placement behavior was leveraged for “privileges” that should be a natural right of all children. Because I did not know my rights I did not know that what I was experiencing was wrong. Today this is exactly why I advocate, because I don’t want this to be the same for other youth who are experiencing foster care.

This is my second year on the FYS Statewide Board and I’m happy to be the Events and Meetings Chair this year because my main goal through advocacy is to reach as many people as possible. My favorite thing as a board member is to see how comfortable members become while working together. The community needs to know that youth in foster care are real people, going through some of the hardest moments of their life and youth need to know that their voice is powerful. I believe that we have to speak up and bring these issues to people’s attention so that they do not forget us. Advocacy, education and consistency is the only way.

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