In February of 2018, the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) was hit with a federal class-action lawsuit alleging that private providers in the southern part of the state were failing to supply enough foster homes, leading to frequent shuffling of kids from one motel to the next, or into cramped group settings.
Last week DCF settled with plaintiffs, represented by the nonprofit Children’s Rights and the law firm Baker MacKenzie, committing to improvements in Miami-Dade and Monroe counties.
“With the judge’s approval and clear federal court enforceability, Florida DCF now has a real opportunity to revamp a failing foster care system and transform the lives of vulnerable children,” said Ira Lustbader, litigation director at Children’s Rights. “We commend the state for committing to improving its standard of care for children, and we look forward to working with DCF to implement these comprehensive reforms.”
DCF has agreed to work with its private providers in the region (most of Florida’s child welfare services are carried out through contracts) to convene a group of community stakeholders and conduct a “gap analysis” on the causes and patterns in the region’s shortage of suitable placements. The Citrus Family Care Network was named as the lead private agency in the region in April, replacing the nonprofit Our Kids.
DCF also agrees that no child will be placed in a hotel or motel unless a regional managing director has signed off that the placement is “extraordinary circumstances necessary to protect the safety and security of the Child,” per the settlement agreement.
Benchmarks in the reforms include that for all of the children in out-of-home care in the Southern Region, the rate of moves cannot exceed 4.12 moves per 1,000 days. DCF must achieve that mark for two years. Further, 90 percent of children in a case review must be deemed to be living in a “stable” placement, and 90 percent must have their “mental and behavioral health needs addressed.”
The agreement names Kevin Ryan, the president of of Covenant House International, as the independent auditor to monitor DCF’s progress toward the agreed-upon outcomes. Ryan was the head of New Jersey’s child welfare agency before joining Covenant House.
The terms of the settlement were initially agreed to in March, and the agreement was finalized this month. The state will pay $1.2 million in legal fees related to the lawsuit.
Last month, Children’s Rights settled a different lawsuit with Missouri’s child welfare system over the use of psychotropic medications on children who were living in foster care.