By Sheldon, George H.
Policy & Practice , Vol. 68, No. 5
Over the past four years, Florida has embarked on what the New York Times referred to as a radical transformation of our child welfare program. Working with our community-based care partners, we have used the flexibility provided by a statewide child welfare demonstration waiver to dramatically reduce out-of-home care while increasing safety. We have also seen record-setting numbers of adoptions and guardianships.
When I came to the department in January 2007 as assistant secretary, implementation of the waiver was in its very early stages. For the past two years, as secretary, I have continued to make this a key focus of our child welfare program.
My most trusted teachers and advisers have been the children and youth who have been in foster care. Early in our administration, I met a group of former foster youth for what turned into more than two hours of intense discussion. I have learned more about foster care from these young adults than all the experts and I'm not taking anything away from the experts. These young adults have convinced me that we should never bring a child into care when there is a safe alternative and that the reforms we have taken offer the best hope for our children. There is also substantial research that supports the belief that children do best when they are safely supported in their own homes and communities.
We have established a goal to reduce the number of children in out-of-home care by 50 percent by 2012, not as an arbitrary number, but because we believe that we can improve safety and permanence for children by creating the conditions that support that goal.
Results So Far
The results have been remarkable. We have safely reduced the number of children in out-of-home care by 36 percent while achieving record-setting levels of adoptions and permanent guardianships. The number of children in out-of-home care has declined from more than 29,000 to less than 19,000. More than 12,000 children have been adopted in the last three and a half years and, last year, we received the largest adoption bonus of any state.
Our community-based child welfare agencies have implemented many innovative practices to support and strengthen families. Before the IV-E waiver, we spent $7.96 on out-of-home care for every dollar we spent on in-home services, family preservation, prevention and diversion. By 2009, this ratio had dropped to $3.60, signaling a significant shift in focus. Most important, child safety has improved and our performance on the national outcome measure for the absence of the recurrence of abuse has improved significantly since implementing the waiver. …