Public Service Funding Mystery Series Episode 3 – Department of Children and Families (DCF)

Mission – As stated in Ch.20.19 F.S.; The mission of the Department of Children and Families is to work in partnership with local communities to protect the vulnerable, promote strong and economically self-sufficient families, and advance personal and family recovery and resiliency.

Vision – We are a highly skilled workforce committed to empowering people with complex and varied needs to achieve the best outcomes for themselves and their families. In collaboration with community stakeholders, we will deliver world class and continuously improving service focused on providing the people we serve with the level and quality that we would demand and expect for our own families.

The most important factors in mission success are: paying the level of caseworker compensation necessary to recruit and retain the personnel needed to overcome deficiencies caused by excessive workloads and chronically high turnover, the adequacy of both foster care and adoption assistance payments and providing comprehensive domestic violence services. Failure in adequately funding these areas assures that efforts to provide world class services and outcomes will fall short.

Over the past decade, funding shortages and political decisions have driven the DCF more toward total privatization of its services. The current ratio of private contractor employees to the 12,053 state employees is estimated to be 3:1. During privatization, quality control efforts lagged. With no objective way to evaluate the level of success of programs across the state, accountability suffered. The 2020-21 proposed DCF budget recognized the need for a comprehensive quality assurance (QA) effort and requested $14 million of funding for an organizational restructuring.

DCF funding has been a low and declining priority since the beginning of the century:

  • The DCF budget has declined from a high of 5.57% of the state budget in 2001-02 and 2002-03 to 3.62% in 2020-21.
  • Despite a 49% rise in the Consumer Price Index over the past 19 years, the 2019-20 budget of $3.3 billion is only 30% more than in 2000-01.
  • Recent actual dollar increases have been $78 million in 2019-20 & $77 million in 2020-21.

Family Safety & Prevention Services, at $1.5 billion or 45% of the total, is the core of the department’s seven funding categories. A minimum increase of 10 to 15% ($150 to $225 million) in provider staff compensation, foster care subsidies, adoption assistance and domestic violence services would be necessary to make a significant improvement in the lives of these at-risk children.

Results of the 2020-21 legislative session:

The 2020-21 DCF budget recognized the need for a comprehensive quality assurance (QA) effort and requested $14 million of funding for an organizational restructuring and establishment of a QA department. Senate bill 1326 supported that proposal and was drafted to place the underlying evidence-based best practices into statute. As reported in a March 13 Tampa Bay Times editorial, an inequity in funding exists across the state’s 20 DCF judicial districts with funding per child ranging from $8,193 to $17,418. The bill passed to be effective July 1, 2020 “subject to an appropriation”. It appears that $5.3 million of the $14 million requested is included in funding bill HB 5001. The funding inequity does not appear to have been addressed.