Helping young human trafficking victims and making sure juveniles get the help they need are among the legislative goals of two state agencies that deal with children.
Over the past couple of years, the state’s child welfare agency has fallen under scrutiny for a spate of child abuse deaths that occurred under its supervision.
A series of reforms sprang up to help address that, and Florida Department of Children and Families Secretary Mike Carroll says they’re making strides.
“We made a significant investment two years ago in the number of investigators we had on the street, and that has helped us immensely in getting caseloads down,” said Carroll. “Workload is still challenging, but caseloads are down.”
Among his other goals include continued funding for mental health and substance abuse programs. He says close to $4 million would go toward “Community Action Teams.”
“Those are teams that provide intensive mental health services to parents and children in the home, and it’s particularly aimed at teens, who—if they weren’t provided this level of treatment—would end up in our dependency system, in our juvenile justice system, or in our adult criminal system. So, we think it’s critical,” Carroll added.
Helping young human trafficking victims, in particular, is also one of his main priorities. Carroll sits on the Statewide Human Trafficking Council, which is led by Attorney General Pam Bondi.
“We are asking for an expansion in services for human trafficking victims and specifically, to have more individualized foster homes where victims of human trafficking can be placed in individual settings where our runaway rates are much lower than what they are in group settings. Just primarily young women, sometimes, young men but primarily young women can receive really intensive wrap-around services, while living close to a family-like setting as possible,” he stated.
Carroll outlined his priorities during a recent meeting of the Florida Children and Youth Cabinet. Florida Department of Juvenile Justice Secretary Christy Daly gave some input as well.
“We really look hard to look within our own system to address some of the needs that we have, and with the significant decline in juvenile delinquency over the past five years, we’ve really been successful in being able to do that,” said Daly.
So, she says they’re focused on only a few things this year, like more funding for increasing staff. Daly says it will help boost safety for DJJ staff and juvenile offenders as well as reduce arrests and escapes.
“One is for $1.9 million, and that is to provide a 1-to-8 staff-to-youth ratio in ten remaining non-secure facilities,” she added. “And, over the last year and a half, we’ve been able to meet this ratio in our other contracts, and this will allow us to reach what we believe is really best practice in staff-to-youth ratio.”
Last year, during an initial confirmation hearing, Senators grilled Daly about why the state was still contracted to a private provider who operates juvenile detention facilities in Florida.
Youth Services International, or YSI has had frequent problems, including escapes.
Daly says it’s tough to fully end that contract, because it could have a negative impact on juveniles. But, she says it’s among her priorities to take some steps to help with that.
“We also have some realignment issues,” she stated. “One would allow us to repurpose some positions within the agency for contract monitoring and management, which we see as very important as we are primarily privatized in our system.”
She’s also asking for about $2 million to increase funding for juvenile prevention programs, like the Boys and Girls Club and the Pace Center for Girls. The bulk of Daly’s request—$8.2-million—is for maintenance and repair of DJJ facilities.
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