Legislative Connection

Tragedies Rock State – Mental Health and Substance Abuse At Play Again

In Orlando, a mother is accused of taking the life of her three children. Five-month-old Christopher and six-year-old Philip were strangled to death and seven-year-old Laci strangled and drowned. All had cuts on their bodies. Jessica McCarty, the mother, was found on the lawn of her home by police following a failed attempt to take her own life. McCarty has a history of drug abuse, including law enforcement involvement.  In 2009, following a suicide attempt, a child abuse investigator believed the children faced immediate danger and inadequate supervision, but noted their father and grandmother seemed like capable caregivers. The family...

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Long Overdue Changes for Juvenile Records Moving

The Children’s Campaign has spent the last year gathering stories from across the state of how juvenile records negatively impact the lives of young adults. We along with the Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center, members of the juvenile justice coalition, and others are championing law changes that allow mistakes made as a juvenile to remain in the past. This week, multiple good bills passed the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee. These bills address the issues of juvenile record confidentially and expunction. Proposed Committee Bills (PCB) CRJS 15-04, 15-05 and 15-06 will make changes to the law including: Expand confidentiality protections for...

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A Tale of Two Chambers: Group Homes

In a variation of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, “it was the best of paths, it was the worst of paths.”  Both legislative chambers held lively discussions about out-of-home care last week. Both had very different tones and, at times, conflicting expert testimony. Some youth, in front of the House Children, Families and Seniors Subcommittee, testified that after seven foster care placements, their group home experience put them on a path of personal and educational success. Other youth appearing the next day at the Senate Children, Families & Elder Affairs Committee were critical of their group home experience....

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2015 Legislative Session Begins

Legislative Session has officially started in Tallahassee. Hot topics that will impact children this Session include: services to children with disabilities, child welfare, juvenile records and trying children as adults, education funding, tax cuts and what to do about the expected loss of federal low income pool health care funds. Leadership across the legislative process had excitedly touted in advance of session the state’s $1 billion budget “surplus” and with it a plan to cut taxes. This positive tone has turned to concern. Loss of low income pool dollars is estimated at $1.3 billion. This development results in the projected...

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Non-Mandated Report Leads to Changes

The release of the Critical Incident Rapid Response Team (CIRRT) report on the Phoebe Jonchuck case sparked advocate, media and legislative concerns about the handling of mental health, substance abuse, and domestic violence in the child welfare system. It revealed mishandling and poor procedures within the breadth of the child protective services system. Phoebe is the 5-year-old who was thrown from a bridge into Tampa Bay by her father, Jon Jonchuck, Jr., following multiple calls to the Florida Abuse Hotline. In a Watchdog report released last week, The Children’s Lobby, a nonprofit children’s organization, questioned the report’s claim that, “there...

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Legislation Supports Young Adults Who Lack Capacity

In 2010, an 18-year-old who had recently “aged-out” of Florida’s foster care system was murdered in a parking lot over a stolen beer. Because he had aged-out of foster care, he was left without a mentor or someone to watch over him, even though he was bipolar, hyperactive, and aggressive with an IQ of 65. Legislation to address this issue that is supported by a multitude of child advocacy organizations, including The Children’s Campaign, will be heard next week in both the House and the Senate. HB 437, sponsored by Representative Adkins (R- Fernandina Beach) and SB 496, sponsored by...

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DCF Secretary Speaks about Child Welfare Transparency

Speaking at the request of Representative Harrell (R-Stuart), Chair of the House Children, Families & Seniors Committee, Mike Carroll, Secretary of the Department of Children and Families (DCF), discussed transparency in Florida’s child welfare system ― largely focusing on the child fatality website, http://www.dcf.state.fl.us/childfatality. According to Secretary Carroll, Florida has the toughest child abuse and neglect reporting mandates in the country. He stressed that DCF does not believe that there is a “reporting problem” in reviewing child fatalities. The user-friendly website, launched in June 2014, was mandated by last Session’s SB 1666, which aimed at accountability through large-scale reform. The...

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Latest Tragedy Focus of Legislative Attention

  Another missed opportunity to protect a child. Another young life lost too soon. Another discussion about what was missed and where Florida’s child welfare system failed. Another one. Five years of a life riddled with interactions with the state’s child welfare system, parental drug abuse and domestic violence, erratic school interactions, and inadequate food and hygiene was ended when Phoebe Jonchuck’s father, John Jonchuck, Jr., threw her from the Dick Meisner Bridge near the Sunshine Skyway on January 8, 2015. The state first interacted with Phoebe’s family three years ago, while her parents were in domestic violence counseling. That...

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Medicaid: The Health and Nutrition of Florida’s Children

Traditionally, a new year begins with resolutions – ways to make lives healthier, better, more fulfilling – many involve health. People are resolving to eat better, exercise more, visit the doctor regularly, or pay better attention to getting and staying healthy. Health and its impact on Florida’s children is no exception and has been in the spotlight. In the final week of 2014, federal Judge Adalberto Jordan found that Florida did not comply with parts of Medicaid law which led to lack of access to care for many children enrolled in Medicaid. Specifically, the opinion detailed: low reimbursement payments to...

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Push is On for Children’s Issues to Ascend in 2015 Session

With a budget surplus at nearly $1 billion, the November elections delivering few surprises but further consolidating power in the GOP-controlled Legislature, and leadership recently naming committee chairmanships, now becomes more hopeful and important than ever for children’s issues to command top priority in the 2015 session. Committee hearings are currently taking place in January and February in advance of the official start of session on March 3. Meanwhile, The Children’s Campaign is working hard to ensure that the health, education, and safety interests of children are solidly out in front for attention by key committees and placement on priority...

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