As Florida’s legislature deliberates how best to use a nearly $4 billion budget surplus – the product of unexpected tax revenue combined with an influx of federal aid during the pandemic – our state is faced with a big question: What can we do today to solve the problems of tomorrow?
The Florida Coalition for Children (FCC) has an answer: Let’s invest in Florida’s families.
With just a small fraction of the billions available, we can keep more families out of the child welfare system, bolster essential services for youth in foster care, and improve outcomes for households in crisis. That’s why local nonprofits, like Embrace Families, are joining forces with the FCC to ask for targeted support around four initiatives:
- End the case manager attrition crisis. Case managers are the gears that make the child welfare system work. They serve as advocates for children and help at-risk families navigate the (often overwhelming) maze of policies and procedures at play.
But they’re also quitting the profession at an alarming rate. Right now, the average tenure of a case manager in Florida is two years, with the average turnover rate at 35% statewide. That’s because the work is stressful, exhausting, dangerous – and, often, unrewarding. You may have heard that Florida’s teachers are among the lowest-paid in the nation, but case managers earn even less. The position’s average salary is just over $39,000.
Our case workers deserve better for the critical life-changing work that they do. By investing in them now, we can put an end to avoidable burnout and provide better care – and outcomes – for vulnerable families.
What we’re asking for: $40 million in funding in the appropriations bill. The House appropriations bill has this money. It does not appear to be in the Senate bill.
- Ease the burden on kinship care. Not all children who enter the system end up in foster homes. In fact, it’s often a relative – a grandparent, uncle, aunt, cousin or other family member – who gets a call from the authorities informing them that the child of a loved one needs a place to stay.
However, those kinship caregivers often receive less financial support than non-relative foster parents, even though they shoulder the same challenges in sheltering, educating and caring for an unexpected addition to the household.
We support Gov. Ron DeSantis’ plan for allocating this additional funding. But we’re also hoping to expand those measures, so that relatives who become permanent guardians can maintain access to their child’s existing healthcare coverage.
What we’re asking for: Passage of Senate Bill 1080 and House Bill 607. This provision is also included in broader Medicaid bills: Senate Bill 1950 and House Bill 1950.
- Keep families in homes. Helping families overcome homelessness is an essential, but often overlooked, step in making sure that more children have a safe place to sleep at night. In Central Florida, rising rent and limited affordable housing make that goal more urgent than ever.
That’s why we’re asking for just under $500,000 to support the proven Pathways to Home program, which helps families in crisis access housing, financial literacy training, career counseling and more to help them – and their kids – find long-term stability.
What we’re asking for: $488,074 in funding through Senate Bill 2231 and House Bill 2535.
- Help homeless children succeed. Every child deserves a safe, stable home … but there are about 100,000 children in the state’s public school system who don’t have a permanent place to live. Early intervention is crucial for helping those kids stay in school, build careers and achieve independent futures.
In pursuit of that goal, we’re asking for funding to do three things: first, give homeless youth access to essential documents, like birth certificates, so they are available when needed; second, allow kids to earn a driver’s license through the Keys to Independence program; and third, offer college counseling and guidance for young adults interested in pursuing a degree.
What we’re asking for: Support of Senate Bill 1708 and House Bill 1577.
By supporting Florida’s families today, we can create a positive impact for years to come – but it’s not something we can achieve alone.
Make your voice heard. Contact your state legislator to voice your support for Florida’s children and ask for a vote in favor of funding our most vulnerable children and families.
Gerry Glynn is Chief Legal Officer at Embrace Families, Central Florida’s nonprofit lead agency helping families overcome the root causes of abuse and neglect through programs that offer case management and other prevention services.