A USA TODAY piece is exposing Florida’s foster care system has repeatedly placed children in homes where they were subject to abuse. Now, Sen. Lauren Book — a Plantation Democrat — is requesting results from a joint task force investigation into those claims.
The authors of the USA TODAY piece blame, in part, a 2015 law signed in reaction to children suffering abuse while in the custody of their biological parents. That law aimed to have state officials prioritize children’s safety above the need to keep families together. That meant an increase in the number of children taken out of abusive homes and placed into the foster care system.
But that surge was not met with a sufficient increase in resources to help those children, according to USA TODAY.
“By 2017, the state needed space for 6,000 additional foster children – an influx equivalent to the size of the entire foster population of the state of New Jersey,” the article reads.
“But lawmakers, child welfare leaders and Scott did not hire more caseworkers or increase the money paid to foster families to make more homes available. And they failed to tackle the root problems driving most of the removals: lack of access to drug treatment, mental health care and domestic violence services for parents. Instead, they stood by as foster care agencies packed children into overcrowded homes and sent nearly 200 boys and girls to foster parents previously accused of abusing or neglecting the children in their care.”
The report prompted Book — who chairs the Senate Committee on Children, Families, and Elder Affairs — to demand answers from the Department of Children and Families (DCF).
“While I only have the lengthy research as addressed in the series of USA Today articles, there is enough smoke to cause me concern,” Book wrote in a letter to DCF Secretary Chad Poppell.
“I know that you likely share those same feelings. The series indicates that children were subjected to abuse that could have been avoided. The exploitation of these young children in foster homes should be one of our highest priorities.”
The USA TODAY piece also described a joint task force developed by DCF and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Chair Book is now requesting a copy of the task force’s findings.
Book’s letter was also copied to Gov. Ron DeSantis, his chief of staff, Shane Strum, First Lady Casey DeSantis and GOP leaders in the House and Senate.
Book herself is a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and launched the Lauren’s Kids Foundation prior to her legislative career to help provide resources to other survivors.
“I understand that the need for fostering greatly outweighs the current availability of care and am aware of how difficult it is to provide quality care when a system is overloaded, underfunded, and understaffed, but the errors made have been egregious, and the issues outlined above indicate system-wide policy failure,” Book added.
“The State of Florida can do better, and we must — for the sake of our communities and our children, especially those most vulnerable.”