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Scott calls out Senate for low-balling child protection but defends gaps in his plan

Scott opa lockaGov. Rick Scott visited a Department of Children and Families service center in Opa-locka on Tuesday to tout additional funding and staffing for the troubled agency’s child protection system.

Surrounding by child abuse investigators and supervisors, Scott pledged again — as he did earlier this year — to commit about $39 million in new dollars to hire more staff and lower caseloads. He then chastised the Florida Senate for not including the money in its budget but defended gaps in his own child welfare proposal that advocates say leaves holes in the state's safety net.

“I am asking the Senate to do right by our children,” Scott said, after praising the work of local investigators.

The Senate has allocated $33.5 million in new money for child welfare programming but has not identified where the money will be used. The House has set aside more than the governor -- $44.5 million, enough to hire additional child protection investigators and provide $4.5 million in new money for support services. Both sides will meet next week to work out their differences. 

The budget increases have come in the wake of a Miami Herald investigation, Innocents Lost, that chronicled the deaths of 477 children over six years whose families had a history with DCF. The Herald review of the state budget over that six-year period also found that as the state budget grew by $10 billion, the resources devoted to child welfare dropped by $80 million.

Senate President Don Gaetz has told reporters repeatedly that that he believes more money is needed for child welfare but has refused to specify if he will go beyond the Senate's initial budget. Senate leaders say the final numbers will be worked out during the negotiating process.

"The Senate set aside funding for child welfare reform from day one of our budget planning,'' said Katie Betta, Gaetz spokeswoman. She said child welfare reform has been a priority of Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford and they have not waivered.

“As such, President Gaetz has communicated this point throughout session, as have the other senators working on this legislation,'' she said. "Final allocations for specific workforce initiatives will be determined in the budget conference.”

But neither the governor's budget, nor the Senate budget, provide any additional money for the support services needed by child welfare organizations to help families receive mental health and drug abuse treatment or parent skills and other services to help them become better parents. 

Out of the more than $1.2 billion in new revenue lawmakers have this year, the House proposes $4.6 million in additional money for child welfare services on top of hiring new investigators. The governor and Senate have proposed no additional resources. 

Scott deferred to DCF Secretary Esther Jacobo to answer questions about his budget. She said that the agency is now undergoing an analysis to determine where to provide additional funding but made it clear they have no plans to make any recommendation this budget year. 

Scott was asked why the people of Florida should wait a year before additional resources are allocated to help at-risk children. He indicated he was in no hurry.

"The right way of budgeting is to find problems and find solutions,'' he said. "Once you find the solution ou can go back and work with the legislature to get the funding. That’s what we’ll do. If we find problems then we’ll work diligently all year to get those done.''

Senate Appropriations chairman Joe Negron said last week that he is determined to fund the program needs to keep children safe but has not committed to putting the money in hiring child protection investigators as the governor has proposed.

"From my point of view, there is nothing more important than doing everything humanly possible to protect children from abuse and neglect,'' Negron, R-Stuart. "So I think you're going to see a strong focus on that issue the last week of session and, based on that issue, where President Gaetz has directed us to go, I think that you will see funding that is commensurate with the commitment that we've made."

What is commensurate with commitment?

"I dont' think we've worked out the exact amount,'' Negron said. "That is something we will resolve in the conference process."

He wouldn't answer whether the total amount for child safety will be capped at $44.5 million in the House budget or include the $25 million advocates are seeking to support services to help parents of at-risk kids get help and treatment. 

"I can't predict what the future negotiations will be between the House and Senate,'' he said. ."As you know in conference, sometimes the amounts exceed where the parties were -- sometimes it goes below. I know that we're working together to say what is the financial commitment we need to make to make sure our children are as safe as possible in their homes." 

Photo: Peter Andrew Bosch, Miami Herald

Miami Herald reporters Carol Marbin Miller, Audra Burch and Marc Caputo contributed

Comments

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Leonard

What would be wrong with EDUCATING young families about WHAT is considered as abuse and WARN THEM of the extremely unpleasant consequences of CPS talons in their family.

EDUCATE young couples. "Because What you DON'T Know- CAN HURT YOU"- http://familyrights.us/contents/dont_know.html

Leonard Henderson, co-founder
American Family Rights
http://familyrights.us/
"Until Every Child Comes Home"

Can't take anymore

So just how much of the funding they cut from the DCF budget 2 years ago are Scott and his pals in the Legislature going to give back? They raided the pitifully small child welfare budget to be able to provide additional tax cuts to out of state corporations and are now arguing over what is a pittance in the overall FY2014-15 budget. Glad to see that Leonard and maybe the rest of the militia movement support increased CW funding.

ed jenkins

This is a discouraging development from this scott who had won over the citizens with his exemplary fiscal stewardship after being initially doubted as a political novice. The matters discussed in this article are to be handled by charities that have been set up by the citizens which will handle them much better than heartless government bureaucrats.

Bill Thompson

As usual with the scumbag Scott, a photo op, lots of talk, no leadership and no action. This horrible man just doesn't really care, because there's no money in it for him unless he can outsource the services to one of his favorite campaign contributors.

D

Shut the hell up loser thompson no one asked you and you aren't getting any more welfare money so go away lowlife.

Bill Thompson

If the scumbag Scott really cared about this issue, he would act as the Florida chief executive that he's supposed to be and get it done through the legislature, not "ask" them to do it. If JEB! wanted something done, it got done. This is all about two faced election year photo ops by this horrible man that doesn't care one bit about average Floridians.

D

shut the hell up thompson you wish you were an average floridian but you are a lowlife welfare collector always whining for more money you loser.

Robert J

I've written the Governor for many years on this matter. I proved to him Florida, is a haven for Dead Beat parents. With the alarming rate of Veterans returning home and their spouses bailing on them. So you have additional stress on wounded Warriors. The Florida Dept of Veterans Affairs is a joke. They know of the problem; but say this Governor's office refuses to take their proposals in a serious light. Governor "Dick", seems to think, taking or assisting Disabled Veterans and their families; is far to complex and expensive to take up.If you doubt this. Contact the Governor on this matter!!! Now imagine that, how many people from Florida ( Regular Military and National Guard) that served in harms way; only to come home and be ignored! I challenge Ed Jenkins to do this and reort back!!!

Bill Thompson

This scumbag Scott is a one trick pony that only thinks about and cares about one thing, making money for his big campaign contributors. When it comes to any other issue, he's not informed and not interested. When he was asked about his DCF budget, he deferred to his DCF secretary Esther Jacobo. This is just a campaign photo op and nothing more. This horrible man is not a leader and has no vision for our great state.

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