‘Foster Shock’ documentary takes Florida’s privatized child welfare system to task

Source: Les Neuhaus, SaintPetersBlog, March 13, 2017

A documentary film about Florida’s privatized child welfare and fostering programs — made by a Guardian ad Litem and filmmaker from Palm Beach — casts a draconian look at what happens to children when they are taken from abusive situations at home and become dependents of the state, at taxpayer expense, often to their peril. “Foster Shock,” which is currently being screened around the state at community viewings and nationally film festivals, was directed and produced by Mari Frankel, who has also served as a Guardian ad Litem (person the court appoints to investigate what solutions would be in the best interests of a child) for the last several years. … Her film paints the picture of a bleak and broken system funded to the tune of roughly $3 billion per year of Florida taxpayer money. The film also argues that a sizable chunk of that money often goes to the six-figure salaries of the executives running the so-called “community-based care” agencies (CBCs), like Eckerd Kids, whose own executive director, David Dennis, earned $708,028 in the fiscal year 2015, according to publicly-available IRS 990 statements. But the children sometimes wind up in group homes, or foster homes, where they are abused or even killed – maliciously or by neglect. There have been a string of widely-publicized incidents the state’s Department of Children and Families (DCF) has had to ultimately deal with in recent years, but the CBCs keep getting their contracts – typically worth tens of millions of dollars per county – renewed by the state. … The CBCs – routinely staffed by personnel who are not licensed social workers, certified master social workers or licensed clinical social workers and are packed into cubical-farm office spaces – subcontract out much of the case management work to other agencies. The case management workers who actually check on the children’s welfare are not licensed clinic social workers either and have demanding caseloads hovering around 20-30 families, depending on the county. …


Family: Teen suicides evidence of failure of privatized foster care
Source: John Pacenti, Palm Beach Post, March 13, 2017

A lawyer representing the biological family of a teenager in foster care who broadcast her suicide on Facebook live says the tragic death is just the latest evidence that the state’s move to privatize foster care is not working. WLRN-FM reports the death of 14-year-old Naika Venant in January was the second teen suicide in a Miami Gardens foster care home overseen by the agency Our Kids in the two months. In December, 16-year-old Lauryn Martin hanged herself with a scarf in her room at the Florida Keys Children’s Shelter on Plantation Key. Howard Talenfeld, a lawyer representing Naika Venant’s biological family, said it is the Department of Children and Families that gives the job to a contractor like Our Kids. … Talenfeld says it’s been 40 days since his firm requested relevant records from DCF and Our Kids, and it hasn’t gotten anything yet. …

Florida’s child-protection system needs major overhaul, report says
Source: Orlando Sentinel, February 3, 2015

A new report from the Florida Institute for Child Welfare, created last year as part of a wide-ranging reform law, calls for state leaders to go well beyond their previous efforts to fix the state’s troubled child-protection system. The 50-page report, submitted Friday to Gov. Rick Scott, Senate President Andy Gardiner and House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, focused on “the need for a statewide, system-wide child welfare strategic plan” that pulls together the disparate parts of Florida’s response to the abuse and neglect of children. ….. Following a scathing review by the non-profit Casey Family Programs of 40 child deaths in Florida, lawmakers last year sought to fix problems that have repeatedly occurred in the state’s programs to protect children from abuse and neglect. Lawmakers concluded, in part, that Florida needed its own research arm to better advise the Department of Children and Families and privatized community-based care organizations that provide adoption, foster care and case-management services. As part of a major reform bill, the Legislature established the Florida Institute for Child Welfare at Florida State University’s College of Social Work. In the new report, Patricia Babcock, the institute’s interim director, and Nicholas Mazza, dean of the university’s College of Social Work, wrote that “Florida’s child welfare system is unique in that its case management services have been privatized.” ….

Interim Report
Source: Florida State University, College of Social Work, January 2015

….The sweeping child welfare reforms passed in the 2014 legislative session paved the way for making Florida’s children safer by mandating research supported policy and practice standards that prioritize safety, permanency and well-being outcomes. The Florida Institute for Child Welfare at the Florida State University College of Social Work was appropriated $1,000,000 and tasked with forming a consortium of child welfare researchers who will provide scientifically based recommendations for preventing child maltreatment fatalities and improving child safety, permanency and well-being. In the last six months, the Institute’s Interim Director has met with national child welfare experts and state-wide stakeholders. Without exception, all of the experts and stakeholders acknowledged the need to improve state and national child welfare outcomes and want to be part of the solution by working in partnership with the Institute. In accordance with s. 1004.615, Florida Statutes, the Florida Institute for Child Welfare submits its interim report to the Governor and Florida Legislature. The recommendations set forth in this report are intended to show the Institute’s commitment to improving Florida’s child welfare system and changing the life trajectory of the children and families that are served by it.

The recommendations are intended to address the specific mandates outlined in the legislation and focus on five key areas:
∙ The need for a statewide, system-wide child welfare strategic plan;
∙ A unified accountability plan that encompasses the Results-Oriented Accountability Program (ROAP) and the Data Analytics Project plans;
∙ Safety, permanency and well-being factors;
∙ Workforce issues; and
∙ Critical Incident Rapid Response Team (CIRRT) process

The annual report due on October 1, 2015, will further expound on these areas and will include recommendations related to:
∙ Group Homes
∙ Pregnant and Parenting Teens in the Child Welfare System
∙ Human Trafficking
∙ DJJ-DCF Crossover Youth….