Gov. Rick Scott Wants $40 Million Increase For Child Protection
In the wake of a wave of children's deaths last year, Gov. Rick Scott is calling on the Florida Legislature to include about $40 million in additional money for child protection in the next state budget, the governor announced in Miami.
Scott's budget proposal includes nearly $32 million for the state Department of Children and Families for child protective investigations and $8 million for six Florida sheriff's offices that handle such investigations.
Scott called his proposal a "historic" budget increase for DCF, and Interim Secretary Esther Jacobo agreed.
"But this is also a historic response to the urgent need in child welfare," she said. "It is a historic and quick response to the things that we have identified as a challenge."
The challenges became evident last spring and summer as about 20 children whose families had already drawn the attention of DCF died of abuse or neglect.
Democrats and children's advocates charged that some of the deaths were attributable to Scott's past budget-cutting and that of Jacobo's predecessor, David Wilkins, who cut 72 quality-assurance jobs and was moving to eliminate second-party reviews when he resigned under fire in July.
The total DCF budget during the current year is $2.815 billion, down from $2.886 billion in 2012-2013.
If lawmakers approve, the additional funding would allow DCF to hire 400 more child-protective investigators, which would slash caseloads from an average of 13.3 to 10, putting the agency within recommendations for best practices.
It would also allow for the use of two-investigator teams for cases with the highest risk of serious child maltreatment: children younger than 4 with factors such as substance abuse and domestic violence in their homes. DCF has been piloting the use of paired investigators for high-risk cases in Miami-Dade and Polk counties.
Also included in Scott's proposal are 26 positions to perform preventive "real time" quality assurance reviews on open child-protective investigations, also for the most vulnerable children. That would restore half the quality-assurance positions that Wilkins cut, while moving them from reviewing closed cases to guiding decision-making in open ones.