Child welfare agency seeks additional funding
Officials from the Children’s Network of Southwest Florida are lobbying to increase funding for foster children living in the five counties of District 8.
Children served by the Children’s Network receive the lowest funding out of all 20 districts, an amount that is 32 percent below the state average of per child allocations.
The funding formula for districts is set by the Florida Legislature and administered through the Florida Department of Children and Families, yet local child welfare advocates say it hasn’t been reworked for some time.
“When you look at what we get to take care of a kid, compared to what Miami or St. John’s counties get, it is like way off,” said Mark Geisler, chairman of the board for the Children’s Network of Southwest Florida. “It is just egregious, there is no other way to put it.”
Budget woes over the last three years have prevented the state from changing the old formula.
In 2003 the state’s child welfare system “privatized,” meaning that responsibility for children went from the state level to 20 local Community Based Care agencies or CBC’s. The Children’s Network is the assigned CBC for the five counties of Southwest Florida — Lee, Collier, Hendry, Glades and Charlotte.
According to DCF Deputy Secretary Don Winstead, CBC’s first received whatever funding had been appropriated to the local DCF office before privatization, and he said several years later a new program was developed to provide additional funding to CBC’s which received less than the state average.
“It is a combination of historical funding plus the last time they got any significant new money it was allocated to the number of children in care,” he said, adding that language prevented any additional funding from being redistributed to lower-funded CBC’s.
Although DCF still conducts investigations on abuse or neglect, the Children’s Network is responsible for placing the children in foster care, an emergency shelter or other programs. They also are the lead agency for adoptions, case management and child supervision.
The average amount any CBC receives per child for funding is $17,198, but according to a funding analysis of all CBC’s statewide, the Children’s Network gets only $11,699. While the Children’s Network is the least paid, St. John’s County receives the highest allocations — 50 percent above the state average.
Geisler said funding for the Children’s Network supports children in direct care or foster care, but also helps those children living with relatives or independently. He said the current funding equates to approximately $30 per day, an amount that covers a meal or item of clothing, but doesn’t come close to paying for all the other things children need to lead a fairly normal life.
“Kids deserve to be members of Scouts, get dancing lessons, they don’t deserve it any less because they are unlucky enough to have been abused in the five counties of Southwest Florida,” said Geisler.
And the little things associated with caring for a child add up, he said.
“It is the little stuff that makes childhood normal for kids who aren’t in a normal situation,” he said.
Officials at the Children’s Network don’t know why the funding they receive is the lowest across the state. Geisler said that by any standard the organization is “doing a really exceptional job” to protect children.
Winstead said the funding formula was historically based on the number of children in care, but that officials are trying to find a way to recognize a more diverse set of factors.
The Florida Legislature is currently considering changes to the way CBC’s receive funding.
Winstead said the proposal, part of the Senate Appropriations Bill, would allocate money based on the number of children in care, number of children below poverty, workload based on the number of reports to DCF and how successful the specific CBC is in reducing the number of children in care.