Senators consider staffing needs stemming from child welfare reform

Garcia, Ileana
Welfare reforms made this year call for more personnel, but the applicant pool is thinning.

Senators on the Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee reviewed recent reforms to the foster care system that already have had implications on staffing within the child welfare system.

Tuesday’s hearing marks the panel’s first since the 2021 Session, during which Senate President Wilton Simpson named child welfare system reforms a top priority. The committee reviewed two top bills emerging from that Session affecting the Department of Children and Families.

St. Petersburg Democratic Sen. Darryl Rouson said meeting requirements under new laws Gov. Ron DeSantis signed this year requires “herculean efforts” from the department.

“We all want the most important thing, and that is the welfare of the child, the paramount thing, for them to be safe and getting the services as soon as possible,” Rouson said.

Stuart Republican Sen. Gayle Harrell said she was concerned about the demand placed on the workforce by significantly expanding the welfare system.

The employee applicant pool has decreased, Deputy DCF Secretary Taylor Hatch noted.

“Workforce is the top of mind when it comes to implementing these bills to make sure we do it with excellence and to the expectation that we all expect,” Hatch said.

Lawmakers approved $30 million in the 2021-22 budget to implement provisions in the two new laws. That funding adds specialized investigations for children who are victims of sexual abuse, expands services to children and families after adoption, implements a new program to help families navigate the process and adds additional support for former foster kids who age out of the program.

The first measure (SB 80), carried by Sen. Jason Brodeur and Rep. Demi Busatta Cabrera, both Republicans, prioritizes finding children a permanent home, particularly before they turn 18. The second measure (SB 96), carried by Senate Minority Leader Lauren Book and Republican Rep. Thad Altman, improves reporting standards in the case of abuse and neglect.

Finding a family for those children is a priority for Brodeur and Simpson, who were both adopted as kids. In the interim, Simpson named Sen. Ileana Garcia the committee’s new chair.

“I think that foster care youth, they’re what this country is going to be 20 years from now, and it’s important to protect them and nurture them so that they spend their adult lives being happy and enjoying this wonderful land and not recovering from their childhood,” Garcia said.

Brodeur’s bill creates “FACE” sheets detailing a child’s history in the welfare system, and it establishes the Office of Continuing Care to assist people when they age out of the child welfare system until they turn 26.

“The Office of Continuing Care will serve as a trusted adviser and easily accessible resource for former foster youth to utilize whenever they have questions or simply need someone to talk to when navigating life’s next steps,” Hatch said.

The bill also expands the decision-making team concerning children’s care.

Book’s bill focuses on working with welfare system partners to reduce further trauma in children.

Garcia replaced Book as the committee head at the request of Simpson, who cited her new role as Senate Democratic Leader as one that requires additional attention. However, the timing on that announcement came soon after Book criticized Simpson for floating a fetal heartbeat abortion measure for the coming Session. Such a bill would likely go through the Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee.

Nevertheless, Garcia said senators on the panel would work in a bipartisan manner.

“I think that what we’ll do here is great,” she said. “It’s never perfect, but it’s a work in progress, and I think all of us here have the best intentions.”

Renzo Downey

Renzo Downey covers state government for Florida Politics. After graduating from Northwestern University in 2019, Renzo began his reporting career in the Lone Star State, covering state government for the Austin American-Statesman. Shoot Renzo an email at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @RenzoDowney.


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