To report these past few weeks as having been unique would be an understatement.
One committee week was also dedicated to serve as a special session. No one asked by American Children’s Campaign remembers a past special session with a primary mission of addressing foreign policy (Gaza). But it’s the first time a sitting Florida governor is running for the Office of President.
Taking place nearly simultaneously, policymakers and political writers closely watched a presidential debate in Miami involving 5 Republican candidates. A past President also a Florida resident and candidate skipped the debate and held a campaign rally instead.
With the intersection of legislative meetings and more presidential-related topics, not many children’s issues were scheduled for discussion other than updates and budget issues provided by the Secretaries of executive branch agencies.
In abbreviated fashion, the following are some takeaways.
Criminal Justice: ACC heartily supports DJJ Secretary Hall’s proposals to significantly improve educational services to children in detention and justice-related residential settings. This is long overdue with decades of missed opportunities. In addition, ACC remains aware of the physical plant problems and the many requests that remain in disrepair. A visit by any elected official to any number of facilities would make the need apparent.
Our biggest concern which was not addressed is the lack of community-based programs to serve children released from detention or returning from razor wire secure residential centers. It’s as if there’s a “front end” and a “back-end” to the system but little or no “middle or re-entry.”
Children returning in the absence of structured and available reentry programs offering intensive group counseling, mental health services or aftercare “halfway” homes (which existed in the past) become mixed up in the child welfare system.
This co-mingling is fraught with peril for child welfare providers and their primary clients. It’s hard to envision significant improvements in foster care inclusive of home recruitment and retention unless juvenile justice restores its “middle and reentry” options.
It’s a small number of children comparatively who are most concerning to local law enforcement, the courts, and advocates. These are children with the most needs but who make up the larger share of foster care “surfing” and sleeping in offices when placements are unavailable.
Both child welfare and juvenile justice need structured and proven alternatives focused on their primary clients and to “hot spot” the frequent users of services which are not designed or modeled to meet the child’s needs.
Some may argue the needs of children in child welfare and those returning from juvenile justice are “not much different.” That statement is less true than true and misses the point of how insufficient options in one system of care negatively impacts outcomes in another system of care. Ignoring this reality leads to untold pain and suffering and negative consequences in the community as well.
Health & Human Services: ACC supports DCF Secretary Harris’s on-going plan to improve technology and upgrade database systems. This, again, is long overdue and the day-to-day problems with the current system, which was problematic from its start, interfere with the important child welfare work taking place.
ACC is concerned, however, about the lack of specificity during the hearings regarding the status of child protective investigators moving from the sheriff’s offices especially in large urban areas with a high number of dependency cases.
All was reported as going well but only about 1 in 4 sheriff’s employees are transferring to DCF and it wasn’t immediately clear as to the number of CPI positions open statewide, number of replacements hired, the historical number of replacements who start but do not complete the training program, overall retention rate, and caseloads. These are important metrics on which to make public commentary as to right track, need to improve track or wrong track.
Another concern is the lack of public discussion taking place about the vastness of the ITN – Intent To Negotiate – process taking place. Unless one is tied to either a Community Based Care Agency (child welfare) or Managing Entity (mental health and substance abuse), they would not know that about 12 of 20 circuits served by CBC’s are going to bid and all of the 7 but soon to be 6 Managing Entities statewide, and at the same time. This report could use all available space with an avalanche of questions regarding outcomes sought, money allocated, the low percentage set for administrative services, and the wisdom of future shrinkage in the number of administering agencies. Is there such a thing as “too big to fail” in human services? We think not.
AROUND THE STATE
- Debate and angst continues with the “Medicaid Redetermination” process. Advocacy concerns as expressed in a sign-on letter have been summarily ignored. According to the News Service of Florida, more than 670,000 have dropped from Medicaid paid health care. Further drops are expected. Health advocates contend more than 50% are dropped due to procedural issues unrelated to qualifying based on income levels. A federal judge will hear the debate on December 5.
- Moms For Recess is retooling its statewide coalition. In news coverage, they announced a fight against the deregulation of school districts which in proposed legislation would allow the discontinuation of 20 minutes of mandated play each school day.
- In recent audits conducted by the Department of Children & Families, and as covered in news reports, providers have been cited for not receiving 3 bids before procuring certain services. In a number of situations, this could cause disruptions that go beyond the bottom line and doesn’t calculate the toll on providers to write, send and analyze the bid documents. Everyone is for efficiency and guardrails need to be in place to prevent self-dealing. Missing from the news reports, however, were examples where DCF itself has issued sizeable sole source contracts of much greater cost and scope than in the provider community. These sole source contracts do not appear to come with oversight by any other governmental body.
- A story in the Tampa Bay Times alleged that children in foster care are prescribed powerful psychotropic drugs but state oversight is insufficient. Other states were identified as well. This is not the first time this issue has been raised over the years with a range of outcomes spanning from adverse consequences to tragedy.
- The Florida Chamber of Commerce held a summit in Orlando and one of the big issues was a report issued jointly with the Florida Chamber Foundation concerning the lack of available and affordable child care. The report estimated as many 200,000 adults have quit their jobs in the past year as a result of the shortage. Is there a state planned response?
- One ominous response to filling jobs due to unresolved immigration reforms and the child care gap is to return to the Dickensian days of the 1800s. Child labor reforms won over several decades that protect children from hazardous jobs, working more than 20 days per week and late at night, etc. are at risk. Even with current labor laws in place, industry groups have paid some of the largest fines in history for employing children in slaughter houses and chemical plants. Advocates beware. A well-funded initiative already has bills filed in 7 states and Arkansas has removed many protections for children as young as 15. Child labor debates are coming and advocates need to be speaking out asap.
Overall, committee weeks have been interesting. ACC encourages legislative bodies to dig deeper into executive branch presentations and to be more incisive in their questions. Two more committee weeks are scheduled in December and then the legislative session begins in January. Time is certainly available to take a deeper dive for the health and well-being of children.