A priority bill of the Senate President-designate is ready for the Senate floor.
The Appropriations Committee approved the DCF Accountability Act (SB 1326) Thursday.
Sen. Wilton Simpson‘s bill aims to bring accountability over the course of the next four years to the Department of Children and Families. It would appropriate more than $5.3 million to the Department of Children and Families for the next fiscal year to implement some of the bill’s provisions. The total recurring cost of the bill is nearly $40 million.
It would set up pilot programs in the Sixth District, which includes Pinellas and Pasco counties and Thirteenth Judicial District, covering Hillsborough County. The lead agencies in those districts could receive incentive funding if they meet expectations. There’s been problems in those areas. Subcontractor Directions for Living was faulted in the 2018 deaths of an 11-year boy and a two year-old Jordan Belliveau whose mother was charged with his murder. Bellievau’s death is thought to have been preventable as child welfare professionals missed several red-flags that could have removed him from his parents’ care. It would give those pilots about $8.2 million.
The timing is notable, with DCF charged with taking over for the scandal-ridden Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence (FCADV) as the sole-source provider and coordinator of domestic violence services at 42 shelters across the Sunshine State.
With DCF moving toward a “prevention” model, the bill would spend nearly $3 million to create the Office of Quality Assurance and Improvement within the organization, shoring up foster care and adoption services. The office would have 125 employees, of which some positions are already there and others would need to be created.
Simpson says lawmakers would give DCF additional funding for salary increases.
If the legislation passes, Secretary Chad Poppell would appoint a Chief Quality Officer who would monitor internal and vendor operations, with the goal being “exemplary services” and “direct accountability for quality assurance” in child welfare.
Under the measure, annual reporting would be required, predicated on performance metrics. The bill requires DCF to create a grading system “to increase transparency to the system.” Providers that fall below expectations would get assistance in implementing corrective action. The department would have to terminate contracts with low-performing vendors if there’s no improvement. DCF may not continue to contract with child welfare or mental health providers that persistently fail to meet performance standards for three or more years.
“We invited and encourage the use of faith-based organizations to improve department services,” Simpson added.
The bill also changes some parameters for child abuse investigations, allowing them to commence in 72-hours in some cases instead of the current across the board 24-hour requirement. The extra time is permissible in cases where the abuse was from a month or more ago, or when reasonable expectations exist that the abuser won’t have access to the child.
However, human trafficking and sexual abuse investigations are more time-sensitive and have a 24-hour window for commencement. The same holds true when the abuse victim is less than a year old.