Florida child welfare officials are aiming to end a yearslong practice of sheriff’s offices conducting child welfare investigations in some parts of the state, moving the responsibility back into the jurisdiction of child protection workers.
In seven large Florida counties — Hillsborough and Pinellas, home to St. Petersburg and Tampa Bay, Broward, Manatee, Pasco, Walton and Seminole — the Department of Children and Families has contracted with sheriff’s departments to handle child abuse and neglect investigations since the 1990s. Collectively, these counties are home to a quarter of the state’s children.
Department Secretary Shevaun Harris said the agency and the sheriffs offices are submitting a proposal to the Florida legislature for the department to retake control of investigations, according to local news station WFLA. The letter indicates that the change will take place “in the coming months.”
“Our child welfare system has evolved,” Harris wrote in a letter. “Today, there is a renewed commitment on prevention-focused programming, and integrating this function within existing crisis-oriented systems to provide better outcomes for families.”
Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri noted that having DCF control all child welfare investigations will allow for better resource and staff allocation across the state.
The change is also supported by local children’s advocates.
“We think it’s a really good move on the part of the department,” Robin Rosenberg, deputy director of Florida’s Children First, a nonprofit helping at-risk kids, told local reporters. “DCF was hampered in their ability to make uniform policy across the state because in those places where sheriffs didn’t want to follow the policy, they didn’t have to do that.”