Child Welfare Reform: Although Progress has been Made, More is Needed

Florida’s child welfare system is charged with the safety and protection of the state’s most vulnerable children. Abused and neglected children also rely on the child welfare system to help their families recover, when possible, from crisis. Although Florida has made strides in reforming its child welfare system, especially in the areas of transparency and adoption, more progress is needed. High-profile tragedies and crises still cause large pendulum swings in the system’s core values, policies and practices between keeping children safe vs. preserving families. Funding to fully support these changes has been inconsistent.

Currently, there is no unified strategy among key stakeholders on the best approach for keeping children safe. Children are being born to parents who are addicted to drugs and kept in the care of caregivers who have a long history with substance abuse. Thirty-five percent of children who died following a verified abuse and neglect report last year were born to a mother who tested positive for substances at the time of birth.

Florida doesn’t have a system to identify quality or struggling residential group homes. Children lack stability as they move from placement to placement trying to find the right fit. Safety plans are being used beyond the scope intended by the legislature. Children in the system lack the opportunity to self-advocate and keep ties with important members of their community. Critical Incident Rapid Response Team (CIRRT) reports are only able to provide input on a portion of the system and the teams are comprised of people under financial obligation to the Department of Children and Families.

Other issues facing the system include: inconsistent oversight of Child Protective Investigations (some are handled by Department of Children and Families and others by local sheriff’s departments), lack of services for dually-served children who have involvement with both the child welfare and juvenile justice systems, availability of substance abuse and mental health services prior to the family being in crisis and recruitment of qualified foster parents.

Unified Strategy Needed to Stabilize Pendulum Swings

Further transformation of Florida’s child welfare system will be challenging until the state stabilizes the large pendulum swings that occur primarily because there is no unified strategy among key stakeholders for the best approach for keeping children safe. In addition, the risk assessment tools being used are not scientifically validated.

Overview of 2017 Child Welfare Reform Bill



  • Strengthened child welfare reform efforts: The Children’s Campaign supports positive child welfare reform moving towards the creation of a child welfare blueprint ̶ a unified strategy for ensuring children’s safety and well-being.
  • Increased parental access to substance abuse services before abuse or neglect occurs: Currently, substance abuse services are only made available to parents after abuse or neglect occurs. Increasing access to services for these parents would require utilizing a new, expanded definition of “children at risk of entering the dependency system” before abuse or neglect occurs.
  • Quality rating system for residential group care: A quality rating system should define exact standards for group care. A quality rating system would identify both failing and successful programs, allowing for the improvement or elimination of those that could harm children and providing best-practice models.
  • Identify appropriate placements for children in out-of-home care to increase stability: Implement a best-practice pre-placement assessment conducted by a trauma qualified clinician.
  • Increase data collection: Expand the scope and depth of data collection to include prevention services to enhance the efficiency of services.
  • Give children a voice in the process: Require children aged 14+ to be involved in face-to-face case planning, given that the process will not have adverse emotional effects or concerns.
  • Expand and refine CIRRT reports: Expedite posting of CIRRT reports, require CIRRT reports to cover children with verified abuse and neglect in the past 24 months and contact with the system in the past 12 months and address the team’s composition so that more members don’t have a current contractual or financial relationship with the Department of Children and Families.

What The Children’s Campaign is Saying…

Additional Resources

  • The Worst State for Kids Up Against the Law—Florida Department of Children and Families
    Information on child fatalities in the state of Florida including hotline information and access to CIRRT reports.
  • Innocents Lost—Miami Herald
    An investigative series using child death reports from DCF to document the dynamics of abuse and neglect, as well as the lives of children who have died in the care of Florida’s child welfare system.
  • Branded for Life: Undertreated and Underdiagnosed Mental Health Hurts Children and Families—The Children’s Campaign
    National data tells us that these adults are overwhelmingly parents. Parents living with untreated mental illness are often unable to adequately care for their children. Mental illness is a disease and, if left untreated, can have a significant effect on children’s well-being.
  • Child Welfare Reform—The James Madison Institute
    Although progress has been made in reforming Florida’s child welfare system, more progress is needed, especially in the areas of children’s safety and well-being.
  • Challenges Facing Florida’s Community-Based Child Welfare System— Florida Tax Watch
    Due to increasing service demand and case manager turnover averaging at nearly 40%, Florida’s child welfare system needs to be better funded in order to provide the preventative services necessary to protect Florida’s children.

Disclaimer: These links to third-party websites are provided as a convenience and for informational purposes only. They do not constitute an endorsement or approval by The Children’s Campaign or its affiliate organizations and partners.

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