TALLAHASSEE -- Child welfare improvements have taken Florida from the bottom to the top of the national pack in the past two decades.
In fact, Florida ranks first in all states in several key indicators, including time spent in the foster-care system.
But critical turnover among case managers threatens that, say child-welfare professionals. In fact, Florida’s award-winning system of community-based care could start to go backward very quickly if state leaders don’t get their arms around the problem.
That was the message during a two-week advocacy spree that began January 24 with a day-long rally, press conference and Legislative reception and ended earlier this week at the close of Children’s Week 2022.
Child-welfare professionals, youth and caregivers visited the state capital for both events to help bring awareness to the issue of case-management turnover and to garner support for a $40 million workforce development request.
“We can’t afford to have our case workers get overwhelmed or leave the job,” said Rose Bailey, an adoptive mother from Port St. Lucie, who, as a former foster parent, understands the important role a case manager plays in the life of a child. “It has a rippling effect to both the foster parent and the foster child.”
Bailey and her daughter, Elise, visited several legislators with that message, along with CCKids staff members Jerra Wisecup and Caryn Toole, and Indian River County resident.
It’s a good investment, said Dominic Calabro, president and CEO of Florida Tax Watch, speaking at the press conference.
“This is all about good public policy and doing what’s right,” Calabro said. “We have a good system, but it costs money to do it right.”
High case-manager turnover is costly to the taxpayer, he said. And it’s bad for children and families.
There are about 2,000 case management positions statewide. More than 600 - or 30 percent - are vacant.
“Tax Watch believes that increased funding will keep more case managers on the job and supports this $40 million ask,” he said.
Department of Children and Families Secretary Shevaun Harris said her agency supports the ask.
The department has two goals, she said: Strengthen family preservation to avoid the removal of children and, when that’s not possible, ensure speedy permanency.
None is possible without the proper workforce.
“We need to make sure the tremendous amount of work that case managers are doing is appropriately compensated,” she said, adding that Florida has been leading the pack for its vision in child welfare.
“Other states are watching us.”