Senate Unanimously Passes Child-Welfare Reform Bill

By: Margie Menzel News Service of Florida | Posted: April 28, 2014 3:55 AM
Child abuse

Until the last minute, members of the Florida Senate amended their child-welfare reform measure and then, by a vote of 37-0, sent it to the House -- its last legislative hurdle before going to Gov. Rick Scott.

The House version (HB 7169) was unanimously approved by the House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday.

The two chambers are ever closer on policy details, and on Tuesday they quickly agreed on funding -- an additional $47 million for child protection in the budget year that begins July 1.

But on Friday, the policy was still being ironed out on the Senate floor. Senate Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee Chairwoman Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, and Nancy Detert, the Venice Republican known for championing young adults aging out of foster care, proposed a series of amendments.

One stipulated that a safety plan for at-risk children can't rely on parental promises to stop drinking or allowing abusive boyfriends in the home. Another provision requires the privatized community-based care agencies, which oversee adoption, foster care and other services, to post their top executives' salaries on their websites.

Detert also offered an amendment tweaking perhaps her top priority: stipends for nonrelative caregivers, the neighbors and teachers and family friends who take in abused and neglected children but who aren’t blood relatives and don’t qualify for financial support.

The bill had already added these foster families to those eligible for small stipends. But Detert discovered that the foster children of nonrelative caregivers wouldn’t qualify for the same help with higher education as other foster kids.

"Since the bill will put children placed with nonrelatives in the Relative Caregiver Program, we needed to revise the tuition-exemption statutes slightly to include those children," she said. "We do not want to inadvertently keep kids from getting tuition because they're (placed with) nonrelatives."

The legislative scrutiny had been underway for months, following media reports of a wave of child deaths from abuse and neglect. Wider legislative efforts ramped up as it became clear that many of the victims had already been known to the Department of Children and Families.

Overall, both chambers' bills require more transparency from DCF about child deaths and more accountability from the lead community-based care agencies. Both would use tuition waivers and loan forgiveness programs to help front-line staff get their social-work degrees.

The bills would create rapid-response teams to conduct immediate investigations of child deaths, establish the Florida Institute for Child Welfare to conduct policy research and create the position of assistant secretary for child welfare at DCF. Both would keep siblings together and medically fragile children in their communities whenever possible.

The issue of keeping siblings together is deeply important to the advocates for youth who lobby lawmakers about improving the child welfare system. It prompted another Detert amendment, addressing earlier bill language about keeping siblings together in group homes when space is available. Advocates have argued that the bill language could lead to more children being placed there than with foster families.

Detert said studies have shown that toddlers who were placed in foster homes were much more likely to form attachments with their caregivers than children who had been institutionalized.

"Foster homes with a loving foster family should be our first placement for every child," Detert said.

But Sen. Tom Lee, a Brandon Republican who sits on the board of directors of A Kid's Place -- a group home in his district that prides itself on providing a family setting -- said foster homes aren't always available to take sibling groups.

"Sen. Detert wants to try to keep them together, and so do I," he said. "We prefer to keep them together in a foster facility, but that's not always practical."

The amended bill passed the Senate to applause.

"This bill needs to be passed ASAP," Sobel said.

Tags: News, Politics

Comments (7)

Patricia Young
7:46PM MAY 6TH 2014
Sorry Margie - I found your name ... award winning reporting
Only change is larger change (more money)
6:22AM MAY 2ND 2014
DCF clamps down on child death information — despite promises to be more open - [Who is running this state? The legislature or the agencies they are supposed to fund and control? The tail is wagging the dog!

Florida’s child welfare agency is reneging on its pledge to be more open about child death records.

In the wake of one of the deadliest eras in the history of Florida child welfare, administrators pledged to be more transparent, even suggesting that added scrutiny could help the agency keep more youngsters safe.

“The answer is to keep this in the public eye,” the Florida Department of Children & Families’ interim Secretary, Esther Jacobo said in January, while discussing ways to reform the troubled agency.

But even as lawmakers debated measures to require the DCF to be more open, the agency has instead worked to close down the flow of information about a string of child deaths. It has pushed to weaken transparency legislation and has already quietly adopted internal policies making it harder for the public to track the agency’s actions.

DCF’s new disclosure policies delay and sharply restrict information provided in official child death reports, a move critics argue could help mask continuing child deaths. The policies are far more rigid than in past years.

In February 2013, during the investigation of the death of a Lake County infant, Matthew Condatore, a DCF supervisor named Stephanie Weis announced “new rules” for the reporting of child deaths to agency administrators.

Matthew’s death was particularly troubling. Only months before he died, workers had been told in two separate investigation that the 11-month-old’s mother left the children for “days at a time” while she consumed a host of drugs, rendering her an unfit caregiver. The Condatore home, a report said, was “disgusting, filthy and dirty,” with bugs and roaches crawling everywhere. The first investigation was completed without DCF taking any action; the second remained open when the child died.
Matthew’s mother passed out while bathing him on Feb. 15, 2013. The boy’s 8-year-old sister found him floating in an overflowing bathtub. His mother, whom a report said was “messed up” at the time, lay unconscious near her dead infant.

“No gory details go to [headquarters] regarding the deaths unless they ask for them,” wrote Weis, a community services director, in an internal DCF email. Referring to Matthew’s death, she wrote: “I think this got everyone excited and we are where we are now — hair’s on fire.”

“Our incident reports need to be factual, clear, and to the point — no dramatization of the events. We need to look like we know what we are talking about, and we’ve got it under control.”
Beginning last year, the Herald reviewed hundreds of critical incident reports that detailed child deaths. This week, the newspaper reviewed 177 new reports. The cases include a child who drowned in an open septic tank, and a teenager who hanged himself in the woods — after DCF had declined to investigate two prior reports concerning his family, and was looking into a third at the time the boy died.
Until about wintertime, most reports were filed within days of the death, as DCF procedures require.

Sometime around November, records show, DCF Southeast Region death coordinator Frank Perry stopped filing formal death reports for the counties he oversees. Those counties are home to two of the most powerful lawmakers in the state for child protection, Harrell, the Stuart Republican who chairs the House’s Healthy Families Subcommittee, and Sen. Eleanor Sobel, a Hollywood Democrat who chairs that chamber’s Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee.
What is this?
8:29AM APR 29TH 2014
Rick Scott appoints another Bush machine Privatizer as Interium Secretary of DCF-

And if they are pumping up the push for privatizing DCF why is he "hiring and deploying 191 new child protective investigators statewide?"

Are they going to be state employee's or contract employee's hired by Community-Based Care Programs? THEY NEVER SEEM TO MENTION THIS! Doesn't the people of Florida deserve to know the mechanics of the organization that is supposed to be protecting our children? Maybe this is why we have so many dead and abused children in Florida - Is the fox really guarding the hen house? It looks like it from ground zero!

A veteran Department of Children and Families administrator will be the agency's next interim secretary.

During an appearance yesterday in Jacksonville, Gov. Rick Scott announced the appointment of Mike Carroll, managing director of DCF's Suncoast Region in the southwestern part of the state.

Carroll will be the eighth secretary or interim secretary at the beleaguered agency since 1999.

Carroll follows Esther Jacobo, who was appointed by Scott as interim secretary in July after David Wilkins resigned in the wake of a series of child deaths from abuse and neglect.

Those deaths are still very much on lawmakers' minds, and Carroll's appointment came as the Legislature is close to passing a proposal (SB 1666 and HB 7169) aimed at fixing the state's long-troubled child welfare system.

That means Carroll is likely to direct the first steps of a host of reforms. And assuming lawmakers pass the current child-welfare budget for 2014-15, and Scott signs it, Carroll would also be involved in hiring and deploying 191 new child protective investigators statewide.

"His challenge is to prioritize," said Mike Watkins, chief executive officer of Big Bend Community Based Care. "How quickly can he bring the people at the edges of the department --- substance abuse, mental health, early learning (programs) --- to the table? Because he can't do this alone."

Carroll has spent 21 years at the agency in a number of roles, overseeing programs dealing with substance abuse, mental health, family safety and adult-protective services in the 11-county SunCoast region, which stretches from Pasco to Collier County, according to the DCF website.

HE'S KNOWN FOR PLAYING A LEAD ROLE IN SUCH SYSTEMIC CHILD-WELFARE SHIFTS AS THE MOVE TO PRIVATIZED COMMUNITY-BASED CARE, the redesign of the ACCESS system, which administers what were once known as food stamps, and, most recently, the transition to the "managing entity" concept in substance-abuse and mental-health treatment.
"I really think Mike is an excellent choice for this position," said George Sheldon, a former DCF secretary who is now running for attorney general.

Christina Spudeas, executive director of the advocacy group Florida's Children First, also praised the choice.

"He's got a good understanding of the system," she said of Carroll. "And from some advocates? point of view, he's been accessible. He's had an open-door policy."
Follow the money to the smoke and mirrors
8:49AM APR 28TH 2014
“The two chambers are ever closer on policy details, and on Tuesday they quickly agreed on funding -- an additional $47 million for child protection in the budget year that begins July 1.”

Sure they are! The one thing these two “chamber pots” always agree on is wasting more money!
And, look at the line up – Grandma would say “most of them are not dry behind the ears yet!” Would they be so quick to spend their own money?

These politicians like to make everything into a political issue so they can bat it back and forth (so called left and right) until the people get tired of their bull and just drop the subject!

Most people in all political parties have children or their siblings have children therefore “child welfare” I should be of true interest to everyone, but it isn’t! In the last forty years most every family has been devastated by some close relative on drugs – drug abuse is an equal opportunity family disaster rich or poor or somewhere in between it gets some of them all.

The best actions the people of Florida can support for child welfare reform would be for the real people of Florida to care enough about the children to understand why those who abuse our children get away with it over and over and over. And then when these judges finally sentence them to something those sentences are usually less time in prison than a common thief or burglar. And if they have some friends or family in the political arena they have major protection by the system. Some even get sentenced only to return home while showing in jail or prison!

Why does it seem Florida attracts so many child molesters and perverts? Follow the money! Pinellas County resident Mel Sembler the founder of something called Straight, Inc. in the 1970’s continues to this day to be a major Republican money supplier. Rick Scott has already made his sabbatical trip to Sembler’s house for a fund raiser. Mel Sembler and his son Brent are primarily responsible for Charlie Crist’s rise to power from State Education Commissioner, Attorney General and then Governor of Florida to succeed Jeb Bush in 2007.

Sembler’s house’s of horror were so bad that DCF Officials refused him licenses in Florida and tried unsuccessfully to close him down. Sembler’s dollars to the politicians bought him a special law passed by those he owned in the Florida Legislature – a law exempting religious schools from having to be licensed or inspected by or coming under the auspices of The Florida Department of Children and Families!

As a result of this law and lack of government licensing and oversight and leaks of the horrors occurring at Sembler’s Straight, Inc. facilities many of his former facility administrator’s and their friends spun off other unlicensed houses of horrors, many like Straight from which rumors of abuse of the children was hitting the streets almost daily.
One such spinoff was The Green isle Boys Ranch in Lake County Florida. For over 20 years Green isle had a reputation for allowing sex among the boys in classrooms and their cabins as well. In 2000 a DCF Investigator was called in by parents of a 9 year old victim but lacked authority to do anything because of the Mel Sembler law. That DCF Investigator reported his criminal findings to the Lake County Sheriff’s Office who allowed that report to lay dormant until the statute of limitations expired on it.

In Nov.2009 five boys at Green Isle reported to the Lake Sheriff’s Office they had been sexually abused over the summer of 2009 by an older student. By Feb. 2010 nothing had been done about their reports and some had tried to kill themselves. On Feb. 3, 2010 house parents labeled by Green Isle management as disgruntled reported on all Orlando TV Stations the plight of the boys and the facts that nothing had been done for them. These “disgruntled house parents” had not been at Green Isle long enough to realize that Lake Sheriff Gary Borders was a co- founding board member of Green Isle along with Don Brown founder of Bridges of ‘America FDOC Prison Ministries and early release programs; and after the leaks of the rapes not being acted upon – insiders at Green isle posted pictures of the sheriff with the reported rapist taken in July 2009 (around the time the rapes began) on the internet. (Proof positive that Sheriff Borders knew the rapist personally.)

After the leaks hit the airwaves, Sheriff Borders and his friends in the Fifth Circuit of Florida faked up and arrest, prosecution and so called “community services” of his little friend the Green isle rapist.

The trouble of it is – while the rapist was supposed to be on “community control” he was in Citrus County receiving traffic citations including one for a crash and getting an injunction for protection from dating violence filed against him by the father of a juvenile – along with at least two Citrus County Sheriff’s Deputy police reports outlining violence against a juvenile – neither of which violated his fake “community control.”

Both Florida Governor’s Rick Scott and Charlie Crist are well aware of the horrors of Green isle Ranch owned by their friend and political insider and FDOC vendor Bridges of America founder Don Brown. Both done everything in their power to “just make it go away!” And they succeeded just like Florida Officials fought the survivor’s of the Dozier School aka (The White House Boys) for decades. Last year even as the cabinet finally give in for researchers to search for the bodies of the Dozier victim’s Rick Scott fought to the last minute before finally giving in to allow the search. At the present at least 55 bodies have been located after FDLE went in to do their cover up and announced their lying report regarding bodies located at the Dozier School. If we can not trust our state law enforcement to tell the truth then who are we supposed to trust?

For the people of Florida who want an education regarding this out of control approach by so called officials regarding “child welfare reform” educate yourselves now. You are reading this on the internet – simply go to Google and Google Straight, Inc. Find the Straight Survivor’s website and read the horror stories of those who suffered at the hands of Mel Sembler here in Florida and other states as well.

Note: (Mel Sembler was also a big Mitt Romney supporter and a George Bush president twice appointed him an Ambassador).
Also Google The Franklin Scandal which discloses the coast to coast pedophile rings established by the Republicans in the 1980’s and basically run underground by the attempts of a Nebraska Senator to expose these networks of child trafficking and pedophile rings.
Nothing has changed in the last thirty years except they have gone underground with the child abuse and child sex rings. (It was discovered even Jessica Lunsford’s killer John Couey frequented Coggins Farms in Valdosta, Ga – one of these rings) Many say this is why he met his demise so fast! [Google Chris Dahl and John Couey for more information on Couey]

Our children will be safe only when the people of Florida get tired of the lip service being paid to “child welfare” and the million and millions of dollars funneled to the politically well connected
privatized community-based care agencies, which oversee adoption, foster care and other services and demand results instead of funding their friends fat wallets!

An honest rich man (back in the day when you could find one) would tell you “money don’t buy me love nor happiness; it just helps me survive my misery!”

Likewise money will not bring successful child welfare reform to Florida’s little children, but it spreads the wealth to the politically well connected while many of our children are not lucky enough to survive their misery!
Then when they die as a result of official government neglect and abuse – the little victims don’t even get an honorable mention because the government much like medical doctor’s bury their mistakes never to be heard of again! That is why Florida Officials fought the White House Boys for so many decades – and you can bet they will continue to cover up the official findings of the University of South Florida’s anthropologists for years to come!
Patricia Young
7:44PM MAY 6TH 2014
Great Job of Reporting ... But seriously I am not familiar with this site - what is your name or do you remain anonymous?
the Death of Little Gabriel
6:36AM APR 28TH 2014
Everyone knows who killed little Gabriel Golden and how! His murderer went to prison on other charges for a short time and was released to the same home where he murdered little Gabriel- But the Fifth Circuit Assistant prosecutor who was reviewing the case never brought forth charges in this death, and now he's retired and out to pasture. Gone from the dirty thankless job of prosecuting those who murder and abuse the little children! What difference does it make? These are the same people who say they are opposed to abortion, yet they see nothing wrong with allowing people to abuse, murder and rape our children after they are born! Can someone explain that?

March 25, 2009 – Lake County, Fl – A homicide prosecutor said he was reviewing the Lake County Sheriff’s Office investigation into the death of Gabriel Golden, an infant who died from skull fractures last year in a Leesburg home.

“These can be especially difficult cases to prove,” said Assistant State Attorney Bill Gross, who offered few details about the report completed by detective Mark Knuttila. “They generally rely a great deal on complex medical testimony.”

No charges were filed after the Nov. 3, 2008 death of the 5-month-old boy, although Ashley Baker, 32, one of Gabriel’s caregivers, was identified as “a person of interest” in the case during court hearings that determined who should have temporary custody of two other children living in the Picciola Road home in Leesburg.

Gross said his review of the case could take “months.”
Baker, who declined an interview request, was arrested Jan. 30 on unrelated theft charges and remains in the Lake County Jail.
After Gabriel’s death, the Department of Children and Families issued a report in which the agency admitted its staff had neglected to ensure the baby’s safety. The report said staff had focused too much attention on Gabriel’s biological parents, Andrew and Andrea Golden, and not enough on the caregivers, Tammi and Ashley Baker.

The Goldens were financially unable to provide or care for the child and gave up “all parental rights” to the Bakers on Sept. 3, 2008 according to signed documents obtained by the Orlando Sentinel. See Golden criminal history later in this document.
Before the Bakers agreed to take custody of Gabriel, DCF investigated claims that his biological parents had left him with others for days, had relied on handouts from local churches and were both thinking about joining the military.
But the DCF report also said the Bakers had been investigated at least 14 times on abuse and neglect allegations. Most of the investigations found no wrongdoing on the part of the couple, however.
The DCF report, while noting that Ashley Baker had a lengthy criminal record, also quoted Gabriel’s paternal grandparents as saying “it is obvious that Gabriel is wanted and loved in that house.” Vickie Laabs, Tammi Baker’s mother, said “they all love Gabriel” and fell in love with him when they started watching him.
Two other children in the home at the time of Gabriel’s death remain in the temporary care of others.
Their mother, Tammi Baker, 31, won additional privileges with both children during a hearing last week in Lake County, although Magistrate Heidi Davis reserved judgment on where Tammi Baker’s son and daughter ultimately will reside.
The son, 12, resides with family friends; the daughter, 6, resides in Pensacola with her biological father.
The magistrate warned Tammi Baker that if she is permitted unsupervised visits in her home with the children that Ashley Baker, if released from jail, is not allowed to be around the kids.
Ashley Baker pleaded not guilty last month to charges of burglary and two counts of dealing in stolen property. He is accused of breaking into the home of his stepson’s foster parents, stealing more than $4,000 worth of jewelry, including a keepsake pocket watch, and attempting to pawn stolen goods.
You can see more on this story at:
Fla. DCF Shuns Blame In Boy’s Death
The Ledger – Lakeland,FL,USA
the truth
6:23AM APR 28TH 2014
Most people in Florida have never heard of "the privatized community-based care agencies, which oversee adoption, foster care and other services!" Just like this latest BILL the privatized community lead agencies was supposed to be the ultimate solution to child welfare problems in Florida. It's been nothing more than an empire builder and money hole!

Most people think The Department of Children and Families is a government managed funded and operated organization under the auspices and management of our elected governor.

But like every other agency in Florida DCF has privatized many of it's services and each "judicial circuit" in Florida is served by these private "Community Based Organization's" who are contracted by DCF and or DJJ to the tunes of millions of dollars - many get those big fat checks from the taxpayers because of the political friends and kickbacks to those friends. Below is the current amount of TAXPAYER CHECKS paid to these vendors in fiscal 2014 so far with more to come!

"Another provision requires the privatized community-based care agencies, which oversee adoption, foster care and other services, to post their top executives' salaries on their websites."

Florida Department of Children and Families - Community-Based Care Programs
What Is Community-Based Care?

Community-Based Care is a comprehensive redesign of Florida's Child Welfare System. It combines the outsourcing of foster care and related services to competent service agencies with an increased local community ownership of service delivery and design. This innovative statewide reform increases accountability, resource development, and system performance.

Program Description: The department's community-based care initiative has captured the interest of the nation by actively negotiating and contracting with respected local, non-profit agencies to provide child welfare services in their local communities for children who have been abused, neglected and/or abandoned. Communities coming together on behalf of their most vulnerable children demonstrates what community-based care was designed to do: transition child protective services to local providers under the direction of lead agencies and community alliances of stakeholders working within their community to ensure safety, well-being, and permanency for the children in their care.

A statewide network of comprehensive, community-based care agencies have been equipped to manage and deliver services to Florida's foster youth. Authorized providers are listed here:
1- Lakeview Center, Families First Network- FISCAL 2014 – $33,596.216.02

2, 14-Big Bend Community Based Care, Inc - FISCAL 2014 - $64,534,470.65

3 & 8-Partnership for Strong Families - FISCAL 2014 - $25,399,082.70

4- (Duval, Nassau)-Family Support Services of North Florida Inc. - FISCAL 2014 - $42,239,360.82

4- (Clay)-Kids First of Florida, Inc- FISCAL 2014 - $6,082,268.90

7- (St. Johns)-St Johns County Board of C C - FISCAL 2014 – NOT FOUND!
7- (Flagler, Volusia, Putnam)-Community Partnership for Children, Inc- FISCAL 2014 - $25,090,065.02

6- (Pasco, Pinellas)-Eckerd Community Alternatives FISCAL 2014 – NOT FOUND!
12- Sarasota Family YMCA, Inc - FISCAL 2014 - $23, 270,143.77

13- Eckerd Community Alternatives – FISCAL 2014 – NOT FOUND!
20- Children's Network of SW Florida - FISCAL 2014 – NOT FOUND!
5- Kids Central, Inc - FISCAL 2014 - $38,044,028.81

9, 18- (Orange, Osceola & Seminole)-Community Based Care of Central Florida- FISCAL 2014 - $50,434,383.05

10- Heartland For Children- FISCAL 2014 - $34,814,751.36

18- (Brevard)-Brevard Family Partnership - FISCAL 2014 – NOT FOUND!
15, 17- ChildNet Inc. - FISCAL 2014 - $85,609,584.73

19- Devereux Families Inc. - FISCAL 2014 - $12,529,102.50

11, 16- Our Kids of Miami-Dade/Monroe - FISCAL 2014 -$81,627,240.80

This innovative new system includes key features that address common problems and challenges in child welfare systems, such as;
• Contracting with, local lead agencies through competitive procurement to engage community stakeholders in designing their system of care, and to develop and maintain a service delivery network within their service area.
• Formation and support of Community Alliances of local stakeholders, community leaders, client representatives, and other agencies funding human services. An Alliance may cover one or more counties, as determined locally. Duties of Community Alliances include, but are not limited to joint planning for resource utilization, needs assessments and establishment of community priorities, determination of local outcome goals supplemental to state outcome requirements, and community education and advocacy.
• A formal process was developed for assessing and preparing local Department units and Lead Agencies to safely transition services from the state to the local provider network. The Department's Readiness Assessment process utilizes an external team of Peer Experts to assess the development of the local infrastructure and transition plans, as well as provide technical assistance to both parties prior to initiating transfer of any services.

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