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Florida Child Advocacy Lawyer Guest Post: ‘Right for Kids’ a First Step – Yet Florida’s At-Risk Kids Need More

August 8th, 2012   No Comments   Uncategorized

Gainesville, Florida-based child advocacy attorney and Florida’s Children First board member Gloria Fletcher offers the following commentary on the “Right For Kids” report…

As an advocate and attorney for foster children and at-risk kids in Gainesville, North Central Florida and throughout the state, I support any effort that advances the cause of protecting our most vulnerable citizens statewide. But the new “Right for Kids” report, while laudable in its the effort to chronicle improvements in Florida’s child welfare system, is to many overreaching in its feting Florida with praise and high rankings.

Frankly, as reported by the leading statewide child advocacy organization, Florida’s Children First, such ratings may leave residents believing “everything is fine” in Florida and our work is done here.

That simply is not the case.

The Foundation for Government Accountability released the “Right for Kids” report, which portrays Florida’s child welfare system favorably in comparison to other states. Some in the Florida’s child welfare community have lauded its findings.

While there is some cause for praise – the state is in the top quarter of all states in various positive categories – the report also presents a misleading perspective of the system. Simply put, children still languish in the system of care.

Advancements have set a high bar to achieve and goals to fulfill. For example, while Florida is one of 11 states with a 24-hour rapid response to investigate claims of abuse or neglect, the report reveals that more than 22,500 kids were not seen within 24 hours of an investigation opening. Though the state is one of nine states that ensure short and stable stays in foster care as a general practice, reality is far from the goal. Some 40 percent of children had been in out-of-home care longer than one year; nearly 1,000 children had been in state care for five years or more, FCF notes.

As FCF reported, Florida is one of only 12 states that visit the vast majority of foster kids monthly. In fact, the state is a leader in this. Yet, while caseworkers are urged to help parents get the services and support needed so their children can be safely returned, FCF reported only 43 percent of parents are contacted each month by the caseworkers.

The findings and figures go on. The state must be praised for its efforts to shorten kids’ stays in foster care, to investigate reports of abuse, and to reunite families when possible. Yet, as reality reveals – and the tales of thousands of foster kids prove – Florida still has much work to do on the path to ensuring what’s right for kids.

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