September monthly update: OOHC up 5% over 2015, IHC even, expansion continues

Florida’s statewide out-of-home care population rose 309 to 23,538 in September, up 5.3% from the same time last year. IHC has remained stable for the past 12 months. Our model has now seen a long enough period of OOHC growth that it can begin separating out seasonal variations, like summer slumps and adoption months, from actual growth. The resulting picture suggests that the current expansion will continue indefinitely without some policy change.


Trends in removals and discharges support this projection. Both removal and discharge rates are seasonal and, except for the months of November (National Adoption Month) and June (beginning of summer reunification rush), removals are projected to continue to outpace discharges.

Oct 2016 - Statewide - Removal v. Discharge.png

All placement types are expected to continue to expand, with the exception of facility foster homes.

Oct 2016 - Statewide - Placements.png

The number of calls accepted for investigation by the abuse hotline are stable, verifications are down nearly 3% over the previous year, but removals are up over 3%. Hillsborough and Miami-Dade continue to have the highest absolute number of removals, while DeSoto county has the highest per 100,000 children in the county. Similarly, the Eckerds and Our Kids have the highest absolute number of removals, while CBCs in less populous regions continue to have much higher removals per 100,000 children.


Regional projections continue to show a lot of variation around the state. The Northwest Region has grown 13% over the last year and is projected to continue to grow another 30% in the next 14 months. At the other end, the Southeast Region has contracted 7% in the last year and is projected to continue this contraction through December 2017. The Suncoast Region, which comprises 28% of all children in OOHC, has grown 13% in the last year and is expected to continue expanding.

Region Sep-15 Sep-16 Change Projected Dec 2017 Projected Change Percent of Statewide OOHC
NW 1983 2235 13% 2901 30% 9%
NE 3078 3490 13% 4117 18% 15%
Suncoast 5819 6548 13% 7346 12% 28%
S 2182 1928 -12% 2014 4% 8%
Central 4894 5230 7% 5442 4% 22%
SE 4402 4107 -7% 3440 -16% 17%


A word about the importance of leadership and statewide policy. The following chart shows OOHC broken down by DCF secretaries over time. Changes in leadership correspond with changes in direction. The exceptions are the transition from Butterworth to Sheldon under Governor Crist, and the transition from Interim Secretary Jacobo to Secretary Carroll under Governor Scott. oohc-by-secretaryThe Wilkins bubble from 2011-2013 is possibly attributable to an attempt to expand OOHC when Governor Scott took over office, but without sufficient legislative structures and CBC buy-in. Secretary Wilkins, an outsider to the child welfare community, eventually resigned under pressure and in the middle of a flurry of negative press about the deaths of children who had contact with the Department. The expansion continued under Secretary Carroll.


To explore these numbers in more interactive detail, check out the Child Welfare Dashboard.

Where the therapeutic foster care placements are

I received a question the other day about the availability of therapeutic placements around the state. My gut answer at the time was that there is wide variation based on geography and CBC. Through a public records request I had done a few months ago, I was able to put together maps showing the disparity. It’s extreme.

You can view the interactive maps here on Tableau. It works best from a desktop computer.

A few caveats. The maps show the number of licensed beds, not necessarily the number of kids in those placements. The colors show which CBCs have authority over those regions, but this does not mean that those CBCs use those placements or licensed them. I’m working on another set of maps that show how CBCs place kids out-of-area.

What do we see in these maps? There are a couple of counties around the state with no licensed placements at all. There are a handful of others that have fewer than 10. Comparing these numbers to the placement maps on the Dashboard, the CBCs in these areas tend to rely on relative caregivers to a larger degree.

What is most striking is the distribution of therapeutic foster and group care (STFC and STGC) placements. They cluster in bigger cities. Some areas, like the Suncoast Region, have a large number of STFC placements available. Whereas the inside of the state, and specifically the area covered by Devereux CBC, have very few. There are no STGCs in the Northwest Region and very few in the Northeast. The two regions overseen by ChildNet have the largest concentration of STGCs.

The economic viability of running an STFC or STGC program depends completely on the local CBC to refer clients. It would be interesting to know more about how each CBC screens kids and makes referrals. This may explain a lot of the discrepancy.

I should note that I’m not advocating for more STFCs and STGCs. At least not as they’re currently implemented. The programs put kids like my clients in families and placements where they find stability and support (this is good!) — and then kicks them out as soon as they’re doing well and no longer meet medical criteria (this is bad!). Many of my clients don’t want to leave, and it seems contrary to everything we’re told about attachment and bonding to have time-limited family placements. Every foster home should be small, focused on the child, and therapeutically trained.

If anyone has specific questions about the maps, I’m happy to answer them in the comments.



Thank you to the Guardian ad Litem Program for a huge honor


I am honored and humbled to be this year’s statewide recipient of the Guardian ad Litem Program’s Excellence in Advocacy Award, which recognizes contributions to the child welfare system by attorneys for special needs children. I am so grateful to be on the list below with many attorneys who I call when I need help. These are really wonderful people who have devoted their lives to helping others, and this award recognizes the enormous value their work contributes to making life better for Florida’s families. I also commend the Legislature on creating the Attorneys for Special Needs Children registry, so that these highly vulnerable children and youth have their well-being promoted and rights protected legally as well as therapeutically and emotionally.

My name is on the list, but I need to raise up the amazing people at the Children & Youth Law Clinic who show up every day to make life better for our clients and all of Florida’s children. Our paralegal, Angela Galiano, holds our legal advocacy together with positivity and boundless energy. Our legal assistant, Mary Cruz, keeps our educational components running smoothly and focused. Our students sign up for a yearlong adventure with no inkling of where it will take them, and wind up finding themselves and their professional passions along the way. Our clients work with us to better their own lives — some of them even go on to become advocates for other youth through programs like Florida Youth Shine and Educate Tomorrow. Finally, I am blessed to have wonderful colleagues and mentors in Bernie Perlmutter and Kele Stewart who remind me that change happens because good people make it happen. Sometimes it requires a nudge, other times a push.

Thank you to Alan Abramowitz and the Guardian ad Litem Program for publicly recognizing our work together for Florida’s children. And thank you to everyone who has reached out to say congratulations.

The Winners of the GAL Program’s Excellence in Advocacy Award

  • Susan Winterberger – First Circuit
  • Stephanie Johnson – Second Circuit
  • Heidi Kemph – Third Circuit and First DCA
  • Connie Byrd – Fourth Circuit
  • Brenda Smith – Fifth Circuit
  • Bowdre McAllister – Sixth Circuit
  • Carol Kelley – Seventh Circuit
  • Nancy Wright – Eighth Circuit
  • Barbara Glass – Ninth Circuit
  • Deborah Wells – Tenth Circuit and Second DCA
  • Robert Latham – Statewide Winner, Third DCA and Eleventh Circuit
  • C. Michael Kelly – Twelfth Circuit
  • Scott Horvat – Thirteenth Circuit
  • Lawrence Kranert, Jr. – Fourteenth Circuit
  • Penny Martin – Fifteenth Circuit and Fourth DCA
  • Richard F. Joyce – Sixteenth Circuit
  • Linda Singer – Seventeenth Circuit
  • Pamela Bress – Eighteenth Circuit
  • Crystal Marsh – Nineteenth Circuit
  • Kathy Bruno – Twentieth Circuit
  • Leonard Helfand – Appeals

Excellence in Advocacy Awards
This year the Florida Guardian ad Litem Program wanted to recognize the hard work of Registry Attorneys who represent children with certain special needs in their circuit. Our GAL team recognizes the great work Registry Attorneys perform in dependency courts across the state. These attorneys are driven by their passion to make a difference in the life of a child with special needs. Registry Attorneys do work far beyond the money paid to them – often times donating any fees collected to a law school program or Legal Aid. Their impressive and dedicated representation of some of Florida’s most vulnerable dependent children under § 39.01305, is valued by not only the children they represent, but also by their peers who have recognized them for this award. From ensuring a child who did not need the prescribed psychotropic medications was taken off of them, to fighting for specialized counseling and treatment, these Registry Attorneys partnered with the GAL Program to do what was right for children.

Registry Attorneys have used their immense expertise for good. They take cases that are complicated and sometimes heart breaking – at a very minimal cost to the state. Their work with children helps families and inspires others. We thank them for being the standard bearer for other child welfare professionals and their work with children with special needs. The Florida Guardian ad Litem Program looks forward to this yearly award for Registry Attorneys who represent Excellence in Advocacy.