Florida Budgets Put Priority on Hometown Projects Over At-Risk Kids
| April 23, 2014 http://jjie.org/florida-budgets-put-priority-on-hometown-projects-over-at-risk-kids/106724/
TALLAHASSEE — In the wake of a bloody year for Florida youngsters, lawmakers have pledged to repair the state’s frayed safety net for abused and neglected children.
But as the state’s annual legislative session winds toward the final gavel, many children’s advocates say legislative leaders have failed to match their words with action and fear some proposals may create new problems.
Gov. Rick Scott has proposed spending $39 million to hire 400 “boots on the ground,” or child abuse investigators who will respond to hotline reports and identify at-risk kids. But investigators typically work with a family for 60 days or less, and then families in need of follow-up help are sent to privately run local agencies.
Those agencies, the governor says, don’t need new money. The agencies counter that if the governor’s plan goes through, their already-backlogged caseloads will swell and families will compete for the services they need to keep children safe. They are asking for $25.4 million more.
“If we get the words right on paper but not do the funding for services, we may actually do some damage,” said Kurt Kelly, president of the Florida Coalition for Children, which represents the state’s community-based-care providers. “There will be such an influx of children in need of services, and we will not have the resources to serve them.”
Florida lawmakers will devote the next two weeks to making choices about how to spend $1.3 billion in new revenue as they craft a record $75 billion state budget. The first drafts show that legislators’ pet projects account for more new money than at-risk kids.
After the Miami Herald’s Innocents Lost series documented the deaths of 477 children in the past six years whose families were known previously to the Department of Children & Families, Florida legislators vowed to make repairs to the state’s system.
“Oftentimes, you get what you pay for, and I think in child welfare we have gone on the cheap, and I think that’s been a mistake,” said Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville. “It’s about money, and we need to spend more money.”….
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