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New Law a Start, Now Florida Legislature, Agencies, Advocates Must Monitor Children’s Safety

With regard to The Herald’s series, Innocents Lost, about the 477 children who died while known by the Department of Children and Families to potentially be at risk, the cases all involved DCF’s knowledge from prior investigations of multiple red flags for children who would be at significant risk of future serious harm or death if left with their families.

In no system should children die at the expense of keeping families together, and this is where the Florida Legislature new enactment SB 1666 placed child safety as paramount. However, this law does not change federal mandate under the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980 for states to use reasonable efforts to preserve families where it can, without jeopardizing the lives of children.

We agree that the recently passed Florida law increases the quality and intensity of the investigative process. But in so doing, it also ensures that our lead agencies will be responsible for implementing and monitoring safety plans beyond the current 60 day investigative period where there is future or imminent risk. In this way, the law allows the agencies an extended time period—as long as is necessary– to monitor families that place children at risk and to make better decisions about whether families can be preserved or children need to be taken into care to help ensure their safety.

What the Legislature recognized, however, and what remains to be seen is whether the Florida Legislature has funded an appropriate service array in terms of amounts and quality of family preservation services, such as substance abuse treatment, intensive case management and mental health services, for the child protection system to achieve these results.

Thus, it’s critical that the Legislature monitor the implementation of this act and if necessary, next session make appropriate adjustments and increase appropriations to ensure that these legislative goals of family preservation and child safety are jointly accomplished.

Howard M. Talenfeld, Esq.
President, Florida’s Children First

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