In case you’ve been under a child welfare rock, there has been a storm brewing for the past year regarding the handling of unaccompanied immigrant minors in Florida’s child welfare system. It started in Miami with two cases: BYGM and KBLV. The opinions are worth a read to get a feel for exactly what is going on here.
In August 2015, I posted two oral arguments, without comment because I — along with many others — am working on those cases. The decisions for those two cases came down on December 30, and both were against the children. Those opinions are here: EPN and BRCM. A third opinion I wasn’t expecting also came down: SFAC. Thoughtful dissents by Judge Salter show how these rulings have exploded into dismissals of cases around the state.
In the meantime, another bad case out of West Palm has been accepted for review by the Florida Supreme Court: OICL. It is set for oral argument on February 2, 2016.
Today, we received word that BYGM and KBLV have been stayed by the Florida Supreme Court pending the outcome of OICL. If you have a private petition dependency case pending in any tribunal and it’s under threat from OICL/BYGM/KLBV, I suggest asking for a stay or abeyance until the Florida Supreme Court can have its say.
I’m providing the BYGM order here for use in your motions.
Over the weekend, I posted some charts showing the number of kids under DCF supervision since 2004. Today we’re going to look at a slightly different measure: the number of abuse investigations between September 2006 and September 2015. Here goes.
This shows the total number of investigations from September 2006 to September 2015. Buried in DCF’s spreadsheets is a caveat that these numbers do not include calls that were screened out as “no jurisdiction.” Therefore be careful — this is the number of investigations, not the number of calls. This measures DCF’s response to calls, not the calls themselves.
The statewide total is at the top and the regional totals are at the bottom. Immediately you can see the stratification that we saw in the last post, this time in three clear groups: (1) Suncoast and Central, (2) Northeast and Southeast, and (3) Northwest and Southern.
All of the regions are strongly correlated (P <0.01) — they all rise and fall together. This implies that anything that’s moving the numbers is either a change in DCF policy or some statewide phenomenon.
Let’s look at the numbers again controlling for the size of each region.
This chart shows how many investigations per child in the region were conducted each month. The three groups we saw above have fallen away and we now see that the farther north you go, the more investigations per child are conducted. The Northwest and Northeast regions vie for the highest rate, while the Southern and Southeast Regions are consistently lowest.
Without knowing the number of actual calls per region, we cannot say any more than that. It could be that people in Miami do not call the abuse hotline as much as people in Pensacola. It could be that southern callers are screened out at much higher rates than callers from the northern parts of the state. The most striking difference between these regions of the state, of course, is the mix of languages. I’ve never called the abuse hotline in Spanish or Haitian Creole, so I do not know what that experience is like.
The zig-zags from month to month imply that there are seasonal effects going on. Let’s remove those to get a better picture of the trend lines.
This chart shows the trend lines without all the noise from the regular ups and downs that occur month-to-month. You can see the clear dip in the 2009-2010 period. Again, this means that fewer investigations were conducted. Without knowing the number of calls total, we cannot say more.
Some statewide event happened at the end of 2010, right at the end of Secretary Sheldon’s tenure. Nowhere else in the data is there such a sharp change across all regions. I suspect there was a policy shift there, probably dealing with how calls were screened out, but I have not been able to find anything on DCF’s websites documenting it.
More recently, something is occurring in the Northwest (and to a lesser extent in the Northeast) beginning around November 2014. Either callers are getting better at bringing maltreatment to the attention of the Department or there is some policy encouraging investigations at higher rates in these areas. The same increase is not found in the south.
The regional rankings are amazingly consistent over time, with the exception of the two northern regions jockeying back and forth. I would expect to see more changes in the rankings. I am not a conspiracy theorist, but it looks as if there were almost quotas keeping the numbers even.
Remember the sharp increase in kids under DCF’s supervision starting in 2013? That’s nowhere to be seen in these numbers. DCF is not handling more investigations; they’re handling investigations differently.
I was curious about the effect that media reports have on DCF investigations, so I looked up the date of the Miami Herald’s Innocents Lost series. It published in March 2014 and spurred a series of town halls and other events over the following months. There is an inflection point in the data at March 2014, but notably it does not occur in the Southern Region where the Miami Herald is located. Complicating the picture is the fact that there were already very public discussions about DCF’s investigation policies in the preceding months and reforms were already working their way through the legislature. I know of one study finding that, instead of driving changes, news reports tend to follow the same forces that spur change in the system. I can’t say any differently with this data.
Interestingly, there is no correlation between the number of investigations and the number of kids under DCF supervision.
I checked the numbers and there is no statistically significant correlation here. Except for the slight bump in both lines around the end of 2010, the numbers of investigations and children under DCF supervision are independent.
I even ran cross-correlations over time to see if more investigations in one month resulted in higher numbers of kids in care in later months. Again, there was no correlation.
That’s it for now. If you read this far, you like graphs as much as I do. Next time I’ll look at the number of verified abuse reports and the types of maltreatment.
I’ve been running a lot of numbers this week for an article that I’m working on. I’ll post a few of the more interesting charts over the next few days. Beginning with these I created from DCF’s Child Welfare Services Trend Reports. The trend report contains the number of children in out-of-home and in-home care at the end of each month from 2003-2015. Taking the monthly average for each year and splitting it up by DCF Region shows a few interesting facts:
The number of children under DCF supervision has been rising since 2013, but it used to be a lot higher statewide. It was lowest in 2010 at the end of Secretary Sheldon’s tenure.
Breaking down the numbers by region shows that the DCF regions have never been equal in size. The Southern Region (Miami) has been the relative smallest until recently. This explains historically why the Southern Region has one CBC and the Central Region has five. The size difference among the regions was at its peak in 2005, when the Central Region averaged 12,193 kids per month and the Southern Region averaged only 3,944.
Separating out the children in out-of-home care, the number is indeed rising, and has been in the south since 2013, and in the north since 2014. The Suncoast Region consistently has the most kids in out-of-home care. The Southern and Northwest regions have vied for title of lowest number of kids out of home.
The Southeast Region has the largest increase in out-of-home care use of any region beginning in 2013.
Looking at the number of children who are receiving services in their home, however, is a different story. The Central Region in the early 2000s relied heavily on in-home services, but came into line with the other regions by 2009. Whereas most regions’ in-home numbers are steady or decreasing, the Southern Region’s have gradually gone up.
By dividing number of out-of-home children by the number of in-home children (not the clearest way of doing this — sorry), we can see the mix of kids in each region. Our first graph showed that the number of kids under DCF supervision was rising, but this shows that those kids are being taken out of their homes at increasing rates.
The difference between now and the early 2000s is stark, when the regions were far more varied in their use of out-of-home care. The Southern Region’s total numbers were small, but their mix was mostly out-of-home, by almost 3:1. To the contrary, there have been times when the Northwest Region had more children receiving in-home services than were in foster care.
The statewide tilt upwards we see in early 2014 signifies a policy shift towards favoring out-of-home care. At least in this recorded history, we have never seen such a uniformly implemented change. (I’m not counting 2010 when Secretary Sheldon left and all of the regions’ numbers immediately started climbing again.)
As of September 2015, the last month with data in these charts, 64% of kids under DCF supervision statewide were in out-of-home care. That number was the smallest at 59% in December 2011.
That’s it for now. If there are charts or numbers you’d like to see, just let me know in the comments.