Many issues that impact children and families were featured presentations at legislative committee hearings in Tallahassee last week – banning child marriage, abuse in juvenile justice facilities, child welfare workforce turnover, dental care for children in low-income families and KidCare disenrollments. All have at least two things in common: (1) the positive impact that good policy could make on the lives of Florida children and their families, and (2) media coverage by dedicated journalists, often inspired by victims, advocates and their work that brought them to public attention.
“Fight Club” Investigation Response Brings Focus to DJJ Success
In response to the recent and widely debated Miami Herald “Fight Club” expose, DJJ Secretary Christy Daly addressed misconduct and abuses within DJJ-operated and contracted residential facilities. Daly appeared before the Senate Criminal Justice Committee as well as the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice. Her testimony broadened the conversation beyond the crisis to include DJJ’s successes and improvements in recent years.
Stating again and again that the abusive incidents raised in The Herald investigation are not deniable, to be defended or systemic, Daly went further to say all were already known to and dealt with by DJJ.
Areas of advances she highlighted included accountability, monitoring and oversight, quality improvement processes and the use of research and data to drive decision-making in serving the children under the Department’s care.
Chief among her recommendations to prevent the incidents detailed in the “Fight Club” is a proposal for a 10% pay raise to combat the 60% turnover that currently exists among Level 1 detention center staff and the creation of the Office of Youth and Family Advocacy.
At the Senate Appropriations subcommittee, Democrats asked more probing questions regarding the efficacy of the quality review since several of the facilities tagged by The Herald had received satisfactory ratings from DJJ monitors. The same senators were at times skeptical about the lack of corrective action measures being offered. The Republican majority, in contrast, commended Secretary Daly for the outcomes she has achieved.
The Children’s Campaign is currently reviewing all materials related to the “Fight Club” investigation and Secretary Daly’s presentations, and will be providing detailed response in the coming days.
A bill that removes dangerous loopholes in law that currently allow children of any age to be married in the state of Florida, SB 140, by Senator Lizbeth Benacquisto (R-Lee County) unanimously passed the Judiciary Committee. The legislation, also known as the “Marriage of Minors” bill, would allow “no exceptions” to the marriage of minors.
In testimony by the Coalition to End Child Marriage, it was said more than 16,000 children were married in Florida between 2010 and 2016. At present, no age limit exists for children who are pregnant. Children over 16 only need parental consent, but according to the coalition, this is not a protection because parents are most often those responsible for coercing the marriage.
One of the victims, Sherry Johnson, rose in support of the bill thanking Senators for their work on the issue. In her case she was forced to marry her rapist at age 11 and then suffered years of further abuse.
Other horrific outcomes include increased poverty, vulnerability to domestic violence, physical and verbal abuse and isolation, and abandonment. Further, nearly 80% of child marriages end in divorce.
When presenting her bill to the committee, Senator Benacquisto stated, “marriage license loopholes are used and abused to cover up the sexual abuse of women.”
In order to keep children safe from this practice, the bills must continue to move through the process without the attachment of any exceptions. You can support this effort by taking action.
The House Children Families and Seniors Subcommittee heard several presentations about child welfare, including the Child Protective Investigators (CPIs) workforce.
During his presentation, Department of Children and Families (DCF) Secretary Mike Carroll stated that Florida ranks 3rd in the nation for number of kids involved with the child welfare system, and also 3rd for the number of abuse hotline calls that are screened. He explained that better protocols are needed to allow for a quicker exit of abuse reports that have no evidence/corroboration to increase efficiency.
When addressing CPI turnover rate, he noted that 52-55% of CPIs are under the age of 29, 33% have been with the Department six months or less and most turnover occurs before the second year of employment. In response, DCF is in the process of creating a step-plan to better assist CPI’s to move up in the field.
In the House Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee, DCF presented its Legislative Budget Requests (LBRs). As discussed in our last Legislative Connection, savvy budget directors “offer up” programs for reduction that would be difficult to let go in terms of public support and operational need.
DCF priorities included:
- $1.8 million for 130 (rather than 69 current) positions, which translates to 80 CPIs, 30 supervisors and 20 CIU staff
- $1.4 million for Specialized Treatment Programs for Dually Served Youth and Families to expand treatment programs to divert youth from residential congregate care home (group home, juvenile detention and residential treatment)
Items identified for reduction included:
- $4.8 million for Family Safety- Office of Child Welfare
- $7.3 million for Children’s Baker Act, which would decrease funding for services
- Almost $100 million for Community-Based Care (CBC), which would decrease funding for CBC Lead Agencies for dependency case management, licensed foster homes, licensed residential group care, adoption incentive benefits and training
Only 49% of Florida’s children have seen a dentist in the last year, putting Florida in a 49th place tie in Kids Count’s most recent ranking.
A House Health and Human Services Committee presentation by the Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) highlighted recent changes and future goals regarding Medicaid children’s dental services.
Beth Kidder, deputy secretary for Medicaid, stated that the Agency’s biggest challenge is that dental healthcare is generally not viewed as equally important to other medical care. AHCA goals include reducing potentially preventable hospital admissions, readmissions, emergency department use and use of unnecessary ancillary services, as well as to improve birth outcomes through innovation.
Florida Healthy Kids Board discussed waiving the KidCare premiums for children whose families were impacted by Hurricane Irma after the 30-day extension approved by Gov. Rick Scott expires.
Florida Healthy Kids Executive Director Rebecca Matthews says that in October more than 9,000 children were disenrolled, more than double the average monthly attrition. Of those children, 6,338 are living in families with incomes below 200 percent of the federal poverty level, so they pay reduced premiums. Florida is currently 40th the country in number of children living without health insurance.
The Board put off the vote until more details were available on the cost of the plan to aid families.
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This Legislative Connection is brought to you by Amanda Ostrander, Sabrina Abboud, Courtney Reed, Karen Bonsignori, Roy Miller and Tiffany McGlinchey.