Invest wisely to best protect children
By David Bundy
Abusers have stolen the lives of too many innocent children. As a state, we have shared anger, frustration and pain over these tragedies, and we now share a renewed commitment to do more to better protect our children.
During a recent press conference, Governor Scott urged legislators to invest additional funding in services that safeguard our most vulnerable children. I commend him for this public request.
Two years ago, the Barahona tragedy forced DCF and our Legislature to take a hard look at the system responsible for more than 30,000 children each day. Recognizing the critical importance of child protective investigators, the Legislature allocated millions of dollars to enhance career opportunities within DCF. According to DCF, this investment resulted in a stronger, more stable workforce, a significant factor in child protection. Each day, victimized children rely on the skills, experience and decisions of DCF’s child protective investigators.
But what happens when these investigators determine a child’s life is in danger?
Sometimes the threat is so extreme that a child can’t remain at home for one more minute. Other times, the family remains together and must receive intense services at home.
In either scenario, child welfare case managers take over – when it’s time to help struggling families battle challenges that can endanger their children’s lives. Most importantly, case managers become responsible for the safety of maltreated children. Responsible for helping these children heal from their traumas. And, if a child can never return home, responsible for finding an adoptive family ready to love that child forever.
It doesn’t happen overnight. It certainly doesn’t happen in a few months. On average, case managers work with families for 10 to 22.5 months. At any given time, a case manager serves 15 to 22 families.
To put this in perspective, DCF’s child protective investigators have an average caseload of 13 – and each case remains open for a maximum of 60 days.
Governor Scott’s $31 million ask for additional DCF child protective investigators would reduce their caseloads to 10. Though a worthwhile investment, I urge our legislators to remember that case managers – those charged with the safety and holistic care of abused children for months and years at a time – have caseloads nearly twice that.
I fully agree that our state must invest additional funding to better protect our most fragile children. However, we must ensure resources are evenly allocated among child protective investigators and case management. Though the importance of a child protective investigator cannot be disputed, neither can the crucial importance of a case manager.
Children’s lives depend on a cohesive, collaborative system. We must ensure it is strong and stable. We must continue to work together and do all we can to protect our children.
David Bundy is President and CEO of Children's Home Society of Florida, serving children and families throughout Florida. He also sits on the Board of Directors of Children's Home Society of America.
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Note: Versions of this opinion piece appeared in several news outlets, including the Orlando Sentinel, the Tallahassee Democrat, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel and the Palm Beach Post.