Today was the last day of the session and that’s a good thing. There were no big child welfare bills this year, but a lot of bills passed that will make life more dangerous for anyone who isn’t well represented in the legislature. Hopefully much of that will get tied up or even struck down by the courts. Until then, we will do our best to help kids and families navigate through difficult waters.
Here’s a list of bills that made it through the House and the Senate:
- The bill creating a task force to figure out why kids run away.
- The bill that creates a process for adult dependent children to obtain support from their parents.
- The bill that limits gender treatment for minors and payment for treatment for adults.
- The bill creating a children’s ombudsman and requiring notification of foster kids’ rights. (This was a Florida Youth Shine priority, so congrats!)
- The bill limiting release of autopsy reports of minors who died of domestic violence.
- The bill requiring concurrent permanency planning in CBC contracts.
- The bill requiring DCF conduct a trauma screening on kids when they are taken into custody.
- The bill to expand KidCare eligiblity.
These bills now go to the governor for signature or veto. We have to wait and see what happens next.
What about the budget?
The budget also passed, and it mostly raises DCF-related funding.
The Department of Children and Families’ Family Safety Program (a.k.a. foster care) will be allocated $1,966 million for 4,570 positions. That’s nearly two billion dollars. That’s up $72 million (+4%) and 706 positions (+18%) from last year.
The Guardian ad Litem Office will be allocated $63.3 million and 815 salaried positions. But, $4.4 million and 67.5 positions will be placed in reserve contingent on the GAL Office getting IV-E. Assuming they get the money from the Feds, that’s up $2.7 million (+4%) and 0 positions from last year. Otherwise, it’s down $4.7 million (-8%) and 67.5 positions. GAL has been claiming it can get IV-E money for a few years. The Legislature is saying “put up or shut up.”
There’s also $1 million allocated to DCF for an online “multichannel digital media campaign” to recruit foster parents and GAL volunteers. Get ready for some Facebook posts. They will have to submit a report later that shows the “cost per inquiry” they get from the campaign, which will be interesting.
Attorneys for “special needs” kids are allocated $3.3 million. That’s the same as last year. The attorneys will now be able to bill $1,450 per year, which is up from $1,000 in the past. The barriers to working on the registry are huge, so we need as many incentives as possible.
Registry attorneys appointed for parents will also see a bump in pay rate. The first year of a case will now pay $1,450 (at disposition or dismissal), and $350 every subsequent year. Termination of parental rights cases will pay $1,800 for the first year and $350 thereafter. Both rates have been $1,000 and $200 for a long time, so this is a needed increase.
But really, the DCF budget is the bulk of it. Two billion dollars a year on a system that fails to find any evidence of child maltreatment over 90% of the time that it tries and does two billion dollars worth of harm along the way. If only there were other ways to spend the money to help people.
What wasn’t tackled this year?
Every time I talk about the foster care budget, I try to point out that the kids and families who are caught in the system have very clear ideas about what they need. It is rarely what we’re currently offering.
The Harvard Institute of Politics does a youth survey every year. This year’s study of 18 to 29-year-olds covered the political spectrum and country. This age group covers both the older kids and younger parents in the foster care system today.
Respondents to the study largely viewed healthcare as a human right and thought the government had an obligation to try to reduce poverty and provide basic necessities. They generally described their financial situation as good, but still believed that homelessness “could happen to anyone,” which is a huge generational difference in attitudes.
The respondents were split on whether action is needed for climate change, but had strong feelings about the need for gun control. That is rational. Their generation grew up with constant reminders of gun violence in schools, and gun deaths among kids rose 50% in the last two years. The Florida legislature reduced the age to buy rifles back down to 18. It had been raised to 21 after Parkland in 2018. That did not last long.
Notably, the respondents were split about whether they thought they would be better off than their parents. That’s no longer the American promise. Only a third said yes.
So what is the foster care system’s role in materially improving the lives of families? None, really. It doesn’t do cash support, it doesn’t pay for housing or help. It’s not really meeting the moment, but it’s still the highest funded option we have.
Meanwhile, the feds are doing a pilot project to provide diapers. It’s $8 million for seven sites across the country. Eight million is such a small amount compared to foster care. And what are they piloting? If people need diapers, get them diapers. The need for an evidence base has run amok if you have to prove that diapers were statistically significant in some way.
Meanwhile again, some states are loosening child labor laws, so I guess families can start loaning out their kids to local businesses if they need help. What could go wrong with that?
Looking for something to read?
Here are some child advocacy related things that came out this week.
- The Legal Ethics of Family Separation by Milan Markovic looks at prosecutors’ ethical obligations towards kids and their families.
- The Clearwater police are reopening the Logemann investigation.
- Policy and Legal Implications for Working with Unaccompanied Immigrant Children in Foster Care in the United States is exactly what the title says.
- Drug Tests are Not Parenting Tests is right.
Have a good weekend!
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