Florida's child welfare system is among the best in the country for reducing abuse in foster care and responding quickly to abuse allegations, according to a free-market think tank report released today.
The state, which delivers foster care and related services through private community agencies, was ranked as the country's 4th best child welfare system overall, says the report, which uses federal data compiled by the Foundation for Government Accountability.
"Child welfare is a very emotional business, by definition, but it's also important to run it like a business," said David Wilkins, secretary of the Florida Department of Children and Families. "Because you have to have accountability, you have to have metrics, and you have to measure those metrics and always demand improved and better performance."
That's an example of how public-private cooperation can allow the state to maneuver and address problems, Wilkins said.
"It's the definition of privatization. It is not an entitlement program to a third-party organization," he said. "That contract was rebid, there were several organizations that bid, and Eckerd won. The incumbant on the project, definitely, their performance had a direct impact."
Florida did not rank well in every outcome. In fact, it fared poorly (No. 41) on overall prevention of abuse and neglect. And it ranked as No. 28 in both educational outcomes and minimizing the number of times kids change foster homes.
Florida also ranks in the middle in terms of how much is spent per foster child, at $36,932 per year, said Tarren Bragdon, CEO of the foundation that produced the report.
"There's not a strong correlation between how much a state spends, and the outcomes they get," he said. "It's what is the state prioritizing? And where are those resources going?"
Idaho, which ranked No. 1 overall, operates on a fully public child welfare system. New Hampshire and North Carolina also ranked higher than Florida overall.