To Save Vulnerable Children, Change Florida’s System (Opinion)
As the current legislative session winds down, all eyes are on Florida’s child welfare system. As The Daytona Beach News-Journal has reported, the response to the Miami Herald’s in-depth look at child deaths in Florida prompted a renewed commitment by legislators to prioritize the health and safety of children, even as the debate about how to do that continues.
The recent coverage in the Miami Herald and here locally illustrated an inescapable truth: There is no justification for more than 400 innocent lives cut far too short.
We mourn these tragedies. We immediately want to know why such travesties occurred. But “why” only gets us so far. The question we need to answer is, “What can we do to prevent this from happening in the future?” The best answer is prevention. But for those children who have experienced abuse, we must have reasonable caseloads for both protective investigators and case managers, which will allow them to spend the time needed with each family and provide the quality services they want to provide. In addition, low caseloads increase staff retention and mastery of work, which also lead to better services for children.
In Florida’s unique system of care, the Department of Children and Families oversees initial investigations and reports. After the investigation, continued care and services transition to the community through community-based-care agencies and their local service providers. These organizations work collaboratively to break cycles of abuse in more families, to strengthen families and to protect children.
Child welfare is a difficult and often heartbreaking field. To provide our children with the best care, we must ensure that the case managers who work with families have appropriate caseloads, proper compensation and top-of-the-line training. We must insist our legislators commit to appropriately fund child protection services at all levels — from initial investigations to ongoing services that can provide the best outcome for each child.
Prevention programs, such as Healthy Families, Healthy Start and Early Head Start/Head Start play a critical role in stopping the cycle of abuse. They work with families from the very beginning, building and strengthening positive, nurturing relationships between parents and children, which we know works to prevent child abuse. Interventions such as mentoring and counseling help those children and teens who have been abused to heal and work through the trauma they experienced so they may become good parents in the future and break the cycle of abuse in their families.
It really does “take a village,” and also a community, to keep kids safe and to help heal and support our future generations of parents. Keeping our most vulnerable children safe depends on a system, working collaboratively, that penetrates all level of culture and bureaucracy. Together, we can make this happen.
Pleasants, of South Daytona, is associate executive director of Children’s Home Society of Florida, serving children and families in Volusia, Flagler and Putnam counties.
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