Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill Tuesday that would create accountability programs within the state Department of Children and Families.
The DCF Accountability Act (SB 1326) sets up the Office of Quality Assurance and Improvement within DCF and tasks it with creating a grading system to monitor internal programs and contracted vendors throughout state. Their performance will be analyzed regularly to ensure Florida’s children and families are receiving high-quality care.
“The DCF Accountability Act will permanently change the landscape of Florida’s child welfare system, addressing longstanding issues affecting Florida’s families, while keeping them safe and ultimately allowing them to thrive,” DeSantis said. “I am extremely grateful to Secretary Poppell and to our legislative leaders for their advocacy and dedication to seeing this important legislation through to fruition.”
The bill cruised in both chambers, with both the House and Senate passing the bill unanimously. It had powerful backers: First Lady Casey DeSantis and Senate President designate Wilton Simpson.
“As Chair of the Florida Children and Youth Cabinet, I am proud to lend my support for the DCF Accountability Act, transformational legislation that will enable DCF to fulfill its mission to work in partnership with local communities to protect the vulnerable and promote strong and resilient families by requiring more rigorous accountability,” the First Lady said.
“Governor DeSantis, Secretary [Chad] Poppell and our leadership in the House and the Senate have delivered on their promise to support Florida’s children and families, while continuing to make this great state a better place for everyone to live.”
Simpson added, “I am proud to sponsor the bill, championed by First Lady DeSantis, that will help the most vulnerable children in our state. We must do better in helping families in crisis.
“I believe this is one of the new laws, along with significant increased funding, that will result in better outcomes. Government is not the be all and end all solution, but we can perform our duties with care, knowledge, accountability, and more effort to help those who are in need.”
Rep. Mel Ponder, who sponsored the House companion, said he was honored to work alongside the First Lady, Simpson and Poppell to get the bill across the finish line.
The DCF Secretary was effusive in his post-signing statement.
“Florida is blessed to have a Governor who is taking decisive action to improve outcomes for families, and we’re also extremely fortunate to have a First Lady who relentlessly defends the potential of every single child throughout the state, from Pensacola all the way down to the Keys,” Poppell said.
“The DCF Accountability Act would not have been signed into law without their leadership and the unparalleled support of the outstanding legislators in the Senate and House, including Senate President Bill Galvano and Speaker Jose Oliva; bill sponsors Senate President Designate Wilton Simpson and Chair Mel Ponder; and of course, many other hard-working and dedicated individuals, such as Speaker Designate Chris Sprowls and Chairs Aaron Bean, Lauren Book, Rob Bradley, Travis Cummings and Ray Rodriguez,” he continued.
“Now, we have the ability to establish a world-class child welfare system that demands accountability, promotes partnership and focuses on front-end prevention services to keep families strong, resilient and most importantly, out of crisis. We look forward to sharing the results of this monumental accomplishment and continuing to build upon it during the 2021 legislative session.”
In addition to the Office of Quality Assurance, the law will create pilot programs in Florida’s 6th Judicial Circuit, which includes Pasco and Pinellas counties and Florida’s 13th Judicial Circuit, covering Hillsborough County. The lead agencies in those districts could receive incentive funding if they meet expectations.
There have been problems in those areas. Subcontractor Directions for Living was faulted in the 2018 deaths of an 11-year boy and a 2-year-old, Jordan Belliveau, whose mother was charged with his murder.
The measure funds the pilot programs with $8.3 million. The Office of Quality Assurance and Improvement will be funded at $3 million.
Florida Politics reporter Renzo Downey contributed to this post.