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

The Florida Department of Children & Families office. Photo:

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 settled with plaintiffs, represented by the nonprofit Children’s Rights and the law firm Baker MacKenzie, committing to improvements in Miami-Dade and Monroe counties.

“With the judge’s approval and clear federal court enforceability, Florida DCF now has a real opportunity to revamp a failing foster care system and transform the lives of vulnerable children,” said Ira Lustbader, litigation director at Children’s Rights. “We commend the state for committing to improving its standard of care for children, and we look forward to working with DCF to implement these comprehensive reforms.”

DCF has agreed to work with its private providers in the region (most of Florida’s child welfare services are carried out through contracts) to convene a group of community stakeholders and conduct a “gap analysis” on the causes and patterns in the region’s shortage of suitable placements. The Citrus Family Care Network was named as the lead private agency in the region in April, replacing the nonprofit Our Kids.

DCF also agrees that no child will be placed in a hotel or motel unless a regional managing director has signed off that the placement is “extraordinary circumstances necessary to protect the safety and security of the Child,” per the settlement agreement.

Benchmarks in the reforms include that for all of the children in out-of-home care in the Southern Region, the rate of moves cannot exceed 4.12 moves per 1,000 days. DCF must achieve that mark for two years. Further, 90 percent of children in a case review must be deemed to be living in a “stable” placement, and 90 percent must have their “mental and behavioral health needs addressed.”

The agreement names Kevin Ryan, the president of Covenant House International, as the independent auditor to monitor DCF’s progress toward the agreed-upon outcomes. Ryan was the head of New Jersey’s child welfare agency before joining Covenant House.

The terms of the settlement were initially agreed to in March, and the agreement was finalized this month. The state will pay $1.2 million in legal fees related to the lawsuit.

Last month, Children’s Rights settled a different lawsuit with Missouri’s child welfare system over the use of psychotropic medications on children who were living in foster care.


John Kelly

About John Kelly
John Kelly is editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change.




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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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