Small Gains for Big Issues Affecting Children

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Florida’s Children Feel Impact of Opioid Crisis

The opioid crisis is having significant impact on healthy births and the state’s child welfare system.

In a presentation to the House Children, Families and Seniors Subcommittee, JoShanda Guerrier, Assistant Secretary for Child Welfare at the Department of Children and Families, shared that Florida has seen a 39% increase in the removal of children under five due to substance abuse by the parents in the past five years. Almost 70% of the babies removed within 30 days of birth were due to substance abuse. The children that enter the system due to parental substance abuse stay longer than average.

Faye Johnson, CEO of the Northeast Healthy Start Coalition spoke of the more than 4,200 infants being born addicted to opioids. This is more than a 1,000% increase from 2005. Every day, 12 to 15 Florida babies are born drug addicted.

DCF is proposing legislation that will allow the involvement in possible care before the current statutory requirement of “demonstrative harm.” The change to “prospective harm” would allow the system to engage with families with substance abuse issues prior to the birth of a child.

While hospitals have their own protocols in place and some release children to addicted parents with no oversight, regardless of required obligation in statute, there is now a plan for system involvement when it is known that the family has a substance abuse history. In response to the need to enhance CPI’s capacity and knowledge in relation to substance abuse and mental health, DCF has been able to embed behavioral health experts in every region in the state.

Healthy Start focused on the need to provide more crisis-stabilization beds for pregnant women and mothers and continue to support services after birth.

Continuing Coverage: National Reform Leader Says “Fight Club” Paints Incomplete Picture

In an op-ed published in the Miami Herald (link provided at the end of article), Shay Bilchik from The Center for Juvenile Justice Reform at Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy says that the “Fight Club” expose by the Herald paints an incomplete picture of the work being completed by the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice.

Stating, “DJJ’s path has not been perfect, but what I know from firsthand contact with that system is that its efforts have been earnest and significant,” Bilchik argues that the state is at the forefront of systemic reform and that such reform takes time and years of effort to pay off.

Child Marriage Ban Passes First House Committee

Florida is estimated to be second in the country for the number of child marriages. In the last two years alone, Florida has married off as many as 706 children. Of the 661 marriages that took place during this time, 77 of the spouses marrying children were over the age of 25. Some were in their 30’s and 40’s. The children being married in these cases can be very young: in the past five years, 13 children just 10-14 years old were married in the state.

Seeking to ban child marriage without exceptions, HB 335, sponsored by Rep. Jeanette Nuñez (R-Miami), was passed by the Civil Justice and Claims Committee with a single opposing vote.  Representative Moraitis (R-Fort Lauderdale) expressed concern about not allowing an exception for pregnant minors and judicial oversight to “catch” instances of sexual assault and rape. Representative Grall (R-Vero Beach) ultimately voted yes, but also raised concerns about exceptions for emancipated and older (age 17) minors.

Marriage of a young pregnant girl is not a viable “fix” to the issue of providing pregnant girls and their children a stable home. More than 70% of child marriages end in divorce, a rate substantially higher than marriage between adults. Girls who marry under the age of 18, for instance, are 50% more likely to drop out of high school and four times less likely to graduate from college. They are more likely to live in poverty during adulthood.

In Florida, the statutory rape law is violated when a person has consensual sex with an individual under age 18. In the past 5 years, over 86% of child marriages have met the definition of statutory rape.

SB 140, sponsored by Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, (R-Ft. Myers), was delayed a week in the Senate Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee due to a lack of a quorum. It will be heard on Monday, November 13th at 4:00p.m.

Early Learning Coalitions Consolidation Report Reviewed

In order to fulfill a requirement included in last year’s Appropriations’ proviso language, the Office of Early Learning (OEL) Executive Director, Rodney Mackinnon, presented a report recommending the reduction of Early Learning Coalitions (ELCs) from 30 to 25 to the House Pre-K-12 Appropriations Committee. However, it was clear that he felt there was a lack of data to support that this reduction will save money or better serve children.

While the presentation did provide information relating to this recommendation, citing that historically ELCs serving fewer children have higher administrative costs, it did not recommend specific counties to merge. The report states, “we need more input if this is going to be a strictly quantitative thing because coalitions are so diverse.

This was not well received by the committee because the proviso language required specific recommendations for consolidations. The discussion on this issue will continue in the coming committee weeks.

Civil Court Opportunities for Human Trafficking Victims

Representative Ross Spano (R-Riverview) continued his work to support victims of human trafficking by presenting his Civil Action for Victims and corresponding Trust Fund bills to the House Civil Justice & Claims Subcommittee. HB 167 provides victims of trafficking a cause of action against the trafficker or facilitator who victimized them for the recovery of compensatory and punitive damages and costs. HB 169 establishes a fund obtained from civil actions, penalties and other sources such as legislative appropriations that can be used to support services that help reduce the frequency of human trafficking in Florida.

Committee members discussed options for funding the bills beyond a trust fund, and commended Spano for his ongoing work on the issue. Both bills passed unanimously and are on their way to the Justice Appropriations Subcommittee.

Bill to Reduce the Diaper Gap Back in Front of Policy Makers

Based on the federal poverty data, there are almost 350,000 diaper age children in Florida who live in families that most likely struggle with access to new, clean diapers. When families are faced with the difficult choice between buying diapers or paying for food, rent or utilities, young children’s health can suffer. Failure to utilize good diaper hygiene can lead to urinary tract or staph infections and may even require hospitalization. Lack of diapers can also get in the way of children participating in quality childcare and early childhood education programs.

SB 56, sponsored by Senator Book (D-Plantation), would exempt diapers and incontinence products from sales tax. It passed its first committee unanimously. Its companion bill, HB 163, sponsored by Representative Cruz (R-Tampa), is waiting to be scheduled in the Ways & Means committee.

The measure could save families almost $70 annually  ̶ enough to buy 156 more diapers.

Children Covered by CHIP Caught in National Political Crossfire

On November 3rd, the U.S. House passed a bill that would reauthorize the funding of the Child Health insurance Program (CHIP) for the next five years. In addition, this bill also allocates funding to community health center programs for two years. However, the payment method imposed splits along party lines due to removing money from the Affordable Care Act’s Prevention Fund.

The introduction of partisan politics into the CHIP program is new and reflects the ever widening divide in the nation’s capital. It is unlikely that the reauthorization of CHIP in its current form will pass the Senate.

The allotment for CHIP in 2017 for Florida was $686.6 million, the fourth largest level of funding in the nation. The state is expected to run out of rollover federal CHIP funding by January 2018. If partisan disagreements in Congress result in the failure of the reauthorization of CHIP, about 340,000 children from low-income Florida families face the devastating loss of health insurance coverage.

Important Links:

Miami Herald Op-Ed: Despite Challenges, Florida’s Juvenile Justice System Continues to Improve 

The Children’s Campaign: Top Questions We’re Asking after Fight Club

Take Action: End Child Marriage in Florida

Miami Herald: Did the Herald paint an unfair picture of the juvenile justice system? A look at the facts.


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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.



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Small Gains for Big Issues Affecting Children