Kelli Stargel Archives - Florida Politics

Jason Brodeur continues to lead Central Florida state Senate candidates in fundraising

Republican state Rep. Jason Brodeur continued to lead all Central Florida state candidates in campaign fundraising in December, bringing in more than $21,000 for his official, 2020 campaign for the Florida Senate, and another $59,000 for his unofficial Friends of Jason Brodeur political committee.

Brodeur’s hauls bring his official fund to about $217,000 raised, with $141,000 left in the bank at the end of December; and Friends of Jason Brodeur to nearly $1.20 million raised and approximately $353,500 in the bank.

Brodeur, who is finishing a final term representing Florida’s House District 28, isn’t running for anything until 2020 when Senate District 9 becomes available. He does have an opponent, Frederick Ashby, an Oviedo Democrat who did not report any campaign finance activity in December. Ashby’s state senate campaign had about $300 in it at the end of the year.

Republican state Sen. Dennis Baxley of Ocala raised $16,000 in December, bringing his re-election bid’s fundraising total to $87,850 for Florida Senate District 12. His campaign also spent about $9,100 in December, so he finished the year with nearly $62,404 in his campaign fund.

Baxley has two opponents. Republican primary challenger Kaesha Gray of Ocala lent her campaign $1,000 in December. Democrat Gary McKechnie of Mount Dora raised $850 in December. Both finished the year with around $1,000 left.

Republican state Sen. Kelli Stargel of Lakeland reported raising $8,000 in December toward her re-election bid in Senate District 22. That brought her total raised to about $132,000 and left her with about $105,000 in the bank at the end of December.

Her opponent Democratic challenger Bob Doyel of Winter Garden reported raising $1,722 in December. He’s raised $12,262 total and finished the year with about $7,000 in the bank.

In Senate District 14, Republican state Sen. Dorothy Hukill of Port Orange reported raising $7,100, putting the total raised for her re-election effort to $106,200. She finished December with about $74,000 in the bank.

Her opponent Democrat Melissa Martin of Cocoa reported raising $1,464 in December. She has raised $12,673 total and finished the year with just over $11,000 left in the bank.

Among races that, like Brodeur’s still are more than two years away, Democratic state Sen. Randolph Bracy of Ocoee, reported raising $7,500 in December, leaving him with about $13,000 in the bank for his re-election bid in Senate District 11. Democratic state Sen. Linda Stewart of Orlando reported raising $2,060 in December, leaving her with about $2,000 in the bank in her bid for re-election in Senate District 13. Democratic state Sen. Victor Torres of Orlando reported raising $5,250 in December, leaving him with about $26,700 in his re-election bid in Senate District 15. None of them has an opponent yet.

As scandal grips Legislature, ‘Guide to a Healthy Marriage’ bill filed in both Houses

Problems with your marriage?

Is it unhealthy?

The Florida Legislature is willing to help future couples avoid such troubles as they traipse into connubial bliss.

Days after Lakeland Republican Sen. Kelli Stargel filed SB 1580, a bill that would lead to a “guide to a healthy marriage,” a guide that would contain resources addressing “conflict management, communication skills, family expectations, financial responsibilities and management, domestic violence resources, and parenting responsibilities,” the House version was filed.

Monday saw Jacksonville Republican Rep. Clay Yarborough file the House version of the legislation (HB 1323).

The Legislature wouldn’t write this guide on its own (probably for the best given that philandering ended the careers of two Senators in recent months, with another former Senator and current State Representative going through a prolonged high-profile and messy divorce, and two more Senators copping to an in-session affair on Tuesday).

Rather, the guide would be written by the Marriage Education Committee: a panel of six marriage education and family advocates, two picked by the Governor, two by the President of the Senate, and two more by the House Speaker.

In other words, the same formula that has led to a smooth-running Constitutional Revision Commission could be brought to bear on Florida marriages.

The guide will be paid for with private funds, and reading it would be a prerequisite for a marriage license.

Order in the court? ‘Courthouse carry,’ gun bills die in committee

A testy meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday saw the deaths of three pro-gun bills, including Chairman Greg Steube’s “courthouse carry” push.

SB 134, Steube’s bill providing for concealed-carry permit holders to store firearms at courthouses, was joined in failure by Lakeland Republican Sen. Kelli Stargel’s SB 274 and Steube’s other gun-related bill, SB 148.

But not without healthy and at times aggressive debate.

Stargel’s bill provided for people with concealed-weapons licenses to carry guns at private schools that are on the same property as religious institutions. She made her pro-gun stance clear before the committee.

“Some people believe that if we keep guns out of hands bad things won’t happen,” Stargel said. “I have the school of thought that believes the best way to stop a bad person with a gun is a good person with a gun.”

Following a wave of public comments, both for and against the bill, the committee debated among themselves.

With six Republicans and four Democrats, the committee should be Second Amendment friendly, but Miami Republican Sen. Anitere Flores has been vocal in her opposition to pro-gun legislation, locking her in as an almost definite no vote.

Sen. Rene Gacia, also a Miami Republican, announced his opposition just before the vote, leading to a 6-4 tally against Stargel’s bill.

Stargel’s provision also had been lumped into Steube’s “courthouse carry” measure, so consistent voting logic didn’t bode well for its hearing later in the committee.

But there were two other provisions included in the “courthouse carry” bill that might’ve appealed to those in favor of tighter gun control: a resolution-like Senate position asking the federal government to revisit bump stocks and a provision for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to forward failed background checks for gun purchases to local law enforcement for further investigation.

A representative from Florida Carry, a pro-gun group, lauded Steube for his efforts, but ultimately did not support the “courthouse carry” bill because of the provision about further investigation of failed background checks.

Before the vote, Garcia again voiced his dissent, but not without expressing his usual support for the Second Amendment.

“I for one have always, for the most part, supported the Second Amendment right and I do not believe that we should take the right of gun owners away,” Garcia said. He then cited the bill’s lack of addressing mental health as his reason for dissent.

With failure of his bill all but certain, Steube closed by pointing out the straw man tactics voiced by those opposing the “courthouse carry” measure, reiterating that the policy would only apply to concealed-carry permit holders. The committee had heard compelling arguments from both sides of the gun issue, with gun control supporters citing mass shootings.

“Nothing in this bill certainly allows people to purchase firearms that aren’t legally allowed purchase firearms,” the Sarasota Republican said. He also said none of the recent mass shootings involved concealed-carry permit holders. (The Violence Policy Center completed research on the number of shootings by concealed-carry permit holders.)

But Steube’s argument was to no avail, and “courthouse carry” died by a 6-4 vote.

The committee had postponed the bill’s hearing in November. Last year, it passed the measure in a 5-4 vote after Steube pledged not to expand the bill.

But it had failed, as the Miami Herald reported, when House Democrats traded its failure in a promise to kill a priority of Senate President Joe Negron.

Florida-based national coalition Campaign to Defend Local Solutions, a leading advocate for home rule, said Steube’s bill was the “latest in a series of heavy-handed preemption bills moving through the Florida Legislature in recent years.”

“This is a bipartisan victory for public safety and common-sense local solutions,” said campaign manager Michael Alfano in a statement. “Now, out-of-touch Tallahassee politicians won’t decide into which buildings guns are allowed – local communities will decide for themselves.”

The other bill heard Tuesday, Steube’s SB 148, would’ve provided for concealed-carry permit holders to not be criminalized for temporary or accidental display of their weapon, but that failed in a tie.

Senate panel says texting ban isn’t enough, but at least it’s something

The Senate Committee on Communications, Energy and Public Utilities Tuesday approved a bill by Gainesville Republican Sen. Keith Perry that would institute a statewide ban on texting while driving, but not before they and members of the public labelled it as merely the first step toward a hands-free Florida.

SB 90 and its House counterpart, HB 121, were a focus at the Capitol today, with countless families who had lost loved ones heading to Tallahassee to make it known that the law on the books is too limp-wristed and that its time to change it.

In addition to SB 90 going before its first committee, the Florida Sheriffs Association, Property Casualty Insurers Association of America and texting ban advocacy group FL DNT TXT N DRV Coalition and were among the groups to issue statements today backing a texting ban.

Lawmakers in 2013 considered it a win after they passed a law to make texting while driving a “secondary offense” that could be tacked on to other moving violations such as speeding, but the measure put forward this year would allow police to pull over texting motorists even if they aren’t breaking another rule of the road.

All Senators on the committee agreed in principle, though there was no clear consensus on just how far the state should go with a ban.

“We all know texting is bad – it’s bad – there’s no way around it,” said committee chair and Jacksonville Republican Sen. Aaron Bean. “It’s just how do we get it done, that’s the question.”

For Tampa Republican Sen. Dana Young and Forth Worth Democratic Sen. Jeff Clemens, as well as many of 31 speakers who showed up to support the bill, the way forward is a full-on phone ban, which they and many advocacy groups say would save the most lives and create the least amount of work for law enforcement officers.

“What about sending an email, would that be okay? What about looking through a spotify playlist to choose a song? Would that be okay?” Young asked Perry, along with whether the bill covered Norelco shavers, paperback novels and many other sources of distraction.

“Using a battery-powered curling iron – you ever seen that? I have,” Young said.

Perry said while other activities take eyes off the road, that if he and Young stepped outside they could likely spot two or three texters among the first 10 cars driving by, but might never see a reader or Netflix-watcher behind the wheel.

Clemens said research he looked over shows a simple texting ban might be a wash when it comes to saving lives, but said that hands-free states have seen a drastic reduction in not only fatalities, but injuries and accidents.

The Senate Democratic Leader also wanted the bill to get along with a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court ruling that the warrantless search and seizure of the digital contents of a cell phone is unconstitutional.

Making the bill jibe with that decision is required if police need to prove someone is texting, Clemens said, while under a hands-free law it wouldn’t matter what a motorist was doing on their phone.

“This is decided law. You can’t look at someone’s cell phone without a warrant or without their permission,” he said of the Riley v. California decision, later adding that
“the bill as its structured without the amendment makes it nearly impossible for an officer to tell whether you’re texting, or looking at your iTunes playlist.”

Perry again offered to watch passing cars with his Senate colleague.

“You and I could go out there and be able to tell the difference between someone texting or doing something different with multiple keystrokes,” he said.

Clemens tried to force those changes with a pair of late-filed amendments, both of which Perry deemed “unfriendly,” and while the hands-free strike-all failed, Clemens’ fix to require police inform drivers that they have a right to decline a phone search passed 5-3.

When public comment opened for the amended bill, most of the lobby corps backing the ban deferred to give the flood of mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles and cousins in the room time to share their stories of how distracted driving had ended the lives of loved ones.

The first of the speakers were Key Biscayne couple Rick and Debbie Wanninkhof, who made the nearly 500-mile drive to Tallahassee to tell the story of their son, Patrick, who was killed by a distracted driver at age 25.

“As you can see behind us, we are not alone,” said Rick Wanninkhof after recounting the death of his son. “As lawmakers we ask you to please protect everyone to the best of your ability. SB 90 will save lives.”

“If we saved just one life, wouldn’t it be worth it?” asked Debbie Wanninkhof, holding in her tears until her speaking time was up.

She was one of the few mothers who could. Young had to step away from her desk to comfort the next mother with a tissue and a shoulder as she recounted the death of her son, who had had been a classmate of Young’s child and was a service member stationed aboard the USS Florida with eyes on an officer commission in the U.S. Navy before distracted driving cut his life short.

In the end, lawmakers passed the bill with the only no-vote on the panel coming from Lakeland Republican Sen. Kelli Stargel, who didn’t disagree that a ban should be made law, but said Perry’s bill didn’t go far enough toward solving the problem.

And Perry said that while his bill isn’t perfect, it’s a starting point.

“My goal is that that crowd will not get bigger,” he said turning to look at the parents in the room. “Our goal is to make that crowd smaller.”

Tom Grady

Rick Scott names Tom Grady to constitutional review panel

Former state Rep. Tom Grady will take Jimmy Patronis‘ place on the Constitution Revision Commission (CRC), Gov. Rick Scott announced Thursday evening.

In picking Grady, a Naples attorney and a friend of Scott’s, the governor passed over the three alternates he previously selected to fill an empty seat on the commission, which will review the state’s governing document for possible changes.

“As a former member of the Florida House of Representatives and a member of the State Board of Education, Tom understands the importance of fighting for Florida families and students,” Scott said in a statement.

“Tom has been an advocate for Floridians throughout his entire career and I know he will continue to relentlessly work to make our state the best place for families and job creators to succeed for generations to come,” he added.

“I am proud to appoint Tom to the Florida Constitution Revision Commission today and I am confident that he will be an excellent addition to this historic Commission.”

Left on the sidelines are those three alternates: Don Eslinger, former Sheriff of Seminole County; Tom Kuntz, chairman of the Board of Governors for the State University System of Florida; and John Stargel, a circuit judge in the 10th Judicial Circuit and husband of state Sen. Kelli Stargel

The state constitution says CRC openings “shall be filled in the same manner as the original appointments,” but is silent on whether the governor has to pick an pre-selected alternate or can select someone totally new.

Patronis left the commission and his spot on the Public Service Commission when he was named state CFO to replace Jeff Atwater, now CFO of Florida Atlantic University.

In October 2015, Scott appointed Grady to the State Board of EducationHe was a one-term GOP member of the House of Representatives in 2008-10 before a stint as Commissioner of Financial Regulation, the state’s top banking regulator.

Grady later was interim president of Citizens Property Insurance Corp., the state’s insurer of last resort.

The CRC, which already has held several public hearings, is empaneled every 20 years to go over the state constitution and suggest amendments that go directly on a statewide ballot. Voters still must OK any changes with 60 percent approval.

Jimmy Patronis’ move to CFO creates PSC, CRC openings

Now that Jimmy Patronis is leaving the Public Service Commission and Constitution Revision Commission to become the state’s next Chief Financial Officer, Gov. Rick Scott has to replace him on those panels.

The Florida Public Service Commission Nominating Council is charged with “screening and nominating applicants for appointment by the Governor to fill vacancies on the Florida Public Service Commission,” its website says.

(The 12-member council, by the way, has four vacancies, including its vice chair, according to its website.)

Patronis’ term on the commission, which regulated investor-owned utilities, wasn’t up till Jan. 1, 2019. A council spokeswoman couldn’t be immediately reached Tuesday on whether any applications for Patronis’ seat have been filed.

Scott formally named Patronis, a former state legislator, as state CFO on Monday. He replaces Jeff Atwater, whose last day on the job is Friday. He’s becoming chief financial officer for Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton.

For the empty seat on the Constitution Revision Commission, Scott has three alternates that he already appointed to choose from: Don Eslinger, former Sheriff of Seminole County; Tom Kuntz, chairman of the Board of Governors for the State University System of Florida; and John Stargel, a circuit judge in the 10th Judicial Circuit and husband of state Sen. Kelli Stargel

That body, which already has held several public hearings, is empaneled every 20 years to go over the state constitution and suggest changes that go directly on a statewide ballot. Voters still must OK any amendments with 60 percent approval.

A Scott spokesman said the governor is “reviewing” how to handle that vacancy.

The state constitution says openings “shall be filled in the same manner as the original appointments,” but it’s unclear whether Scott has to pick an existing alternate or can select someone totally new.

Polk GOP Commissioner warns Republican incumbents may face strong challenges

Polk County Commissioner George Lindsey

Republican Legislators could find themselves challenged for election next year … by Republican candidates, Polk County Commissioner George Lindsey, a Lakeland Republican, confirmed Wednesday.

In an interview before his address to the Polk Tiger Bay members, Lindsey said what he described as legislators’ attacks on home rule and local government, has many even in the Republican Party talking about trying to remove incumbents in the 2018 elections.

“The chatter (across the state) is voluminous,” Lindsey said. “I don’t know if it will turn into action, elections are many months away, but there is a lot of chatter about legislators who have basically eroded local control.”

Lindsey, himself, would not say if he will run against one of two Polk County legislators being criticized by local governments for their votes to cut funding to counties and to change school funding in many counties. He lives in the districts of state Sen. Kelli Stargel and Rep. Colleen Burton, both Republicans from Lakeland.

“I would have to resign from my commission term which doesn’t end until 2020 to run next year. But you never say never,” he said with a laugh.

Lindsey told Tiger Bay members that he believed that Polk County would eventually make it through the financial crisis caused by Republican legislators and lawmakers agreed to help 29 “fiscally restrained” counties, largely small or rural counties with very low tax bases.

“But there is no lifeline for the cities, so small towns like Lake Hamilton, Dundee or Polk City will not have that help,” he said.

The normally mild spoken Lindsey has had heavy words for the Republican delegation from Polk County, with the exception of freshman Rep. Sam Killebrew who stood up for his east county district, he said.

“I want the delegation from Polk County to go to Tallahassee to represent Polk County, not to represent for Tallahassee,” he said.

“There is a point at which fiscal conservatism, which I firmly believe in, becomes fiscal conservative malpractice,” Lindsey said. “I have been that would-be candidates have been called by Legislative leaders or incumbent supporters saying, ‘If you get in this race I will bury you.’”

And he accused one former Polk County Commissioner, now-Rep. Neil Combee, a Lakeland Republican, of forgetting his roots and his principles.

“Rep. Combee said the county commissioners were just a bunch of crybabies. During his years on the commission the millage rate was increased five times,” he said.

Denise Grimsley, Kelli Stargel ask Joe Negron to support veto overrides of 2 budget line items

Two senators have asked Senate President Joe Negron to support expanding the call for a special session to override two line-item vetoes.

Sens. Denise Grimsley and Kelli Stargel sent a letter to Negron on Wednesday asking for his “assistant and support in expanding the call for Special Session 2017-A to include the veto override of two budget line items.”

Grimsley and Stargel have asked for Negron’s support to override Gov. Rick Scott’s veto of $3 million for Polk State College and $1 million for the IFAS 4-H $ Family Initiative.

In their letter to Negron, Grimsley and Stargel said the decision to veto funding for Polk State College “will have a negative impact in our community and will result in the Lake Wales campus shutting down.”

As for the 4-H & Family Initiative veto, the two women said it will “negatively impact the development of leadership skills for young Floridians interested in the agriculture industry.” The funding, Stargel and Grimsley wrote, has been part of the base for “many years and was singled out for the the first time in the 2017 Regular Session.”

Frank Artiles dropped as Senate committee chair

As the sordid story of Sen. Frank Artiles’ Monday night rant, replete with racist and sexist phrases, continues to develop, Florida Senate President Joe Negron issued a punitive action Wednesday morning.

Negron removed Artiles from his chairmanship of the Senate Committee on Communications, Energy, and Public Utilities.

Kelli Stargel will replace Artiles.

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Negron took his time on Tuesday formulating a statement, releasing something after 9:30 p.m.

“(Senate Minority Leader Oscar) Braynon reported this incident to me earlier today, and I was appalled to hear that one Senator would speak to another in such an offensive and reprehensible manner. My first priority was to ensure that this matter was promptly addressed between the two Senators involved, which occurred this evening. Racial slurs and profane, sexist insults have no place in conversation between Senators and will not be tolerated while I am serving as Senate President. Senator Artiles has requested a point of personal privilege at the beginning of tomorrow’s sitting, during which he intends to formally apologize to Senator Gibson on the Senate Floor.”

Artiles, of course, did apologize to Gibson and others on Wednesday, as Negron indicated.

___

Artiles extended a “heartfelt apology” to the body, signaling out Gibson.

“There’s no excuse, nor will I offer one … no one deserves to be spoken to that way, much less a person of your stature, dignity, and integrity.”

To Sen. Thurston, Artiles lauded his “friendship” as a “man of principle.”

And Sen. Negron got an apology also, for Artiles’ “crass and juvenile comments.”

“With regard to the word which I used to no one in particular,” Artiles noted that he grew up in a “diverse community” with what apparently was a robust “vernacular.”

No opportunity was immediately ceded for Gibson, Thurston, or Negron to respond to those comments, as the Senate moved immediately into the consideration of bills.

___

Negron’s response was measured, given that he himself was a reported target of Artiles’ vitriol.

The Miami Herald reported Artiles’ assertion that Negron “had been risen to his powerful GOP leadership role because ‘six niggers’ in the Republican caucus had elected him.”

Pressure is coming, especially from Democrats, for Artiles to resign.

Thus far, the GOP appears willing to weather the storm.

Group homes, foster care concern Senate panel

An ongoing debate in Florida has revolved around whether foster care or group care is the best way forward for the kids who need it.

This question, as is the case with so many “safety net” questions, depends on who you ask and how the question is framed.

In the last ten years, the usage of group care has decreased 32 percent compared to foster care. Currently, 2,300 children are in the system.

A Monday meeting of the Florida Senate’s Children, Families, and Elder Affairs committee raised more questions than it provided answers, with industry professionals explaining the elusive nature of initial diagnoses of children once they are swept into the system, and committee members wanting stricter accountability on what can be a frustrating process.

Some want that accountability as soon as next year.

Professionals, including the state’s Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability (OPPAGA), from DCF, and from one group home CEO, explained to the panel how the current model functions.

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Megan Smernoff, legislative analyst for OPPAGA, noted that legislation requires the “least restrictive” environment for children in the system, and 55 percent end up with relatives.

For the other, “out of home care” is the option.

Of all children processed, 28 percent go into foster case, and 7 percent into group care — an arrangement that has more benefits than some might think.

Some so-called “family group homes” have house parents. Others offer shift care. And options for these Medicaid funded courses of action are deliberately chosen, with certain types of children more likely to end up in group care than others.

80 percent of children in group homes are over the age of 11. They are often plagued by behavioral issues, including criminal activities, substance abuse, and developmentally inappropriate behavioral health.

They are more likely to lie. More likely to act out. And more likely to attempt suicide.

Issues: lying, aggression, suicide attempts, among the 11-14 and 15-17 cohorts.

“The children placed in group care tend to be older with behavioral issues … needs that can’t be met in a family care setting,” Smernoff said.

The hardest cases: those 15 and older.

_____

Ginger Griffeth, a Director at DCF, noted the agency’s preference for a “family-like setting.”

“We strive at all times to try to place children in a family-like setting,” Griffeth said, noting that happens “typically 86, 87 percent of time.”

Griffeth described group care pilots at 40 sites that are slated to finish in July, as part of an effort to continue to “rightsize residential group care.”

Griffeth noted that Florida, per capita, has the 13th lowest percentage of children in the system in residential group homes.

Yet she allowed that sometimes is necessary, such as in the case of younger siblings, where maintaining the family unit is a priority.

____

Questions about admissions standards and diagnostics followed.

DCF re-assesses clients every 90 days, and notes that children in group care are more likely to be reunified their families or adopted.

“Family-like settings of course are the best … but residential group care is an important part,” Griffeth said.

_____

So who are the children in group homes?

As one professional said: “Kids who have been through things that I can’t fathom … sometimes we get a child and we don’t know the extent of their trauma on day one.”

That trauma can add up: 5 percent of the kids factor out to more than 35 percent of costs.

The investment, via therapy and other necessities, is great. But success stories do emerge.

Consider the case of Bella, an orphan from Haiti who had had thirty placements and a failed adoption, as her adoptive parents didn’t know the trauma she had undergone.

Bella found her way via group homes, and is flourishing — doing well in school, happy, healthy, and smiling.

Another example of a person better off in a group home: an older kid on the adult sex offender registry, one with a horrifying backstory that illuminates the cycle of abuse.

The girl’s mother killed her father, then gave her child to her boyfriend to “meet his needs” while incarcerated.

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Despite the anecdotal evidence, some Senators — such as Daphne Campbell — questioned the spend in extreme cases.

“You’re talking about $400 a day for a child,” Campbell said.

“When a child enters the system for the first time, you don’t know that child. And that child is being placed somewhere … the problem that we as a committee are having is how do we do that in the best interests of the child,” said Chairman Rene Garcia, “without a comprehensive assessment tool.”

Others, such as Sen. Doug Broxson, were more understanding.

“We are practicing. We don’t know,” Broxson said. “We are an imperfect group dealing with a very complicated subject.”

“All we can do is our very best, but we know we are dealing with situations you can’t control.”

___

Not everyone saw the group home model as less preferable.

Elizabeth Wynter, the CEO of the Children’s Harbor group home in Brevardcited her facility as a “family-like setting” that offers love and being with brothers and sisters.

Her setting has the “house parent” model, yet she recognized the utility of shift care with some groups.

Her kids include three brothers from three different fathers and a mother with a substance issue.

There have been setbacks: depression, school issues.

But therapy and other methods have helped the kids beat the odds.

“We’ve declined group care over the last ten years by 32 percent,” Wynter notes.

“The kids who belong in group care are in group care. The ones who don’t aren’t there,” Wynter added.

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