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Following the Currents that Guide Florida's Future
What are children's advocates looking for from this year's Legislature?
Joe Saunders
It might be one of the most oft-repeated political cliches of the past 20 years or so, but there's a reason we hear “for the children” all the time. For most people, that really is what politics is all about: for the children, for the future, for what kind of country we see ourselves as and want to be. For this week's contributors, “for the children” is part of the job description. Florida Voices asked children's advocates what they would like to see the Legislature accomplish in 2013. They're people involved with the Children's Movement of Florida and the Children's Home Society of Florida and also those who professionally help families with children, including those at the National Association of Social Workers, Florida Chapter, and the Florida Tobacco Prevention Network, which aims to snuff out teen smoking. Take a look. You are likely to be hearing from these folks in the spring.
David Lawrence Jr.
Chairman, Children's Movement of Florida

The Children's Movement of Florida is a citizen-led, non-partisan movement to educate political, business and civic leaders -- and all parents of the state -- about the urgent need to substantially improve the way we care for our children.

Launched in September 2010, the Movement led 17 major "Milk Party" rallies and events from one corner of the state to the other – from Pensacola all the way to Key West. More than 15,000 people attended these rallies, sharing their sense of commitment and enthusiasm for our goals.

Today, more than 325,000 are reached every week by The Children’s Movement. Funded solely by private contributions from individuals and foundations, The Movement does not use any tax dollars, nor does it advocate for any statewide tax increases.

Our goal is to encourage the people and leaders of Florida to make the well-being and education of our children the state's highest priority, especially when it comes to the investment of public resources in programs that make a real difference in the lives and futures of children.

Parent Skill-Building

Parents must play the most central and formative role in children’s lives. Caring, knowledgeable adults are central to children’s healthy development. All parents have questions and concerns about their children, but not everyone has trusted sources for the answers they need – and all parents can benefit from information and support while raising their children.

The state should provide and publicize a statewide phone line and website in multiple languages focused on providing parents with the most-up-to-date information about their children’s development.

Special Needs Screening, Assessment and Treatment

One of every six children has a special need – autism, cerebral palsy, ADHD and many more. Information and support can help parents guide children through these challenges and find peace of mind. Knowledge at parents’ fingertips gives them the best chance to help their children fulfill their potential.

The state should provide online screening and referral tools for families; support adequate funding for the Early Steps intervention system, offering services to children (birth to 36 months) with significant delays or a condition likely to result in a development delay.

Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten Program and School Readiness

More than 175,000 4 year olds now participate in our state’s constitutionally-mandated Pre-K program, costing the state about $400 million annually. But our state meets just three of 10 nationally recommended standards and ranks 34th among 38 states in per pupil funding. While Florida has a solid foundation, enhancements are needed.

The state should require the use of evidence-based curricula in all VPK classrooms and provide materials and support for implementation; build upon the VPK assessment passed by the 2012 Florida Legislature to provide a more comprehensive assessment of a child -- including social, emotional and cognitive growth; and support adequate funding for School Readiness and for voluntary prekindergarten (VPK) to ensure children’s access to educational, enrichment programs that support working families and the academic and social skills needed for kindergarten and beyond.

Health Care

With a rate that is nearly double the national average, Florida ranks at the bottom of states nationally in its number of uninsured children. Nearly 500,000 of Florida's youngest, most vulnerable citizens do not have health insurance. Children without health insurance do not receive adequate care, often don’t get prompt treatment when they are ill, and when they enter a hospital in Florida, they are 1.5 times as likely to die there as are insured children.

The state should:

Extend KidCare coverage to include children of “lawfully residing” immigrants as allowed by federal law and funded with federal matching dollars under provisions of the Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act (CHIPRA).

Ensure all children eligible for Medicaid under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (100 percent to 138 percent of federal poverty level) are extended coverage under Florida law.


The Children's Movement of Florida, working with United Way and others from around the state and through the support of Carol and Barney Barnett, has launched ReadingPals -- an early literacy initiative focused on reading by grade 3.

The goal is to provide a reading mentor to at-risk children in 10 Florida regions – from VPK through the third grade.

David Bundy
CEO, Children's Home Society of Florida

The Children's Home Society of Florida has been on the front lines helping kids since 1902. For more than a century, we have been committed to helping more children grow up safe, healthy and prepared for life.

Legislative priorities

Retention of existing funding for services to children and families, such as:

  • Maintaining the federal Maintenance of Effort (MOE) requirement for the Title IV-E Waiver.

  • Fully funding the need in vital programs such as:
    Community Based Care Core Services.
    Maintenance of Adoption Subsidies.
    Independent Living.
    Early Steps.
    Child Protection Teams.
    Healthy Start.
    Healthy Families Florida.
    Children in Need of Services/Families in Need of Services (CINS/FINS).
    Children's Advocacy Centers (CACs).


Here’s why:

Last year, we served nearly 200,000 children and families – and many other organizations served thousands as well.

Together, we help more children grow up safe, healthy and prepared for life.

We create forever families for kids through adoption.

We keep kids safe and protected when it's not safe to live at home ... and we work with families to help them overcome challenges so they can come back together under one roof.

We provide guidance and support to teens preparing to leave foster care without families so they can live independently.

We counsel children and teens, we help parents struggling with their teens' behavior challenges.

We provide help and hope to families raising toddlers with developmental delays.

We help young moms learn how to safely care for their babies so their children never suffer abuse or neglect.

And that's just the beginning ...

All these services - critical services in every community - require legislative funding so we (and other organizations) can help the children, teens and families who so desperately need us.

For more information, visit www.chsfl.org/issues/funding

Interventions to address the needs of victims of domestic minor sex trafficking:

  • Increase capacity of safe houses (under Safe Harbor legislation passed in 2012).

  • Increase capacity of service providers to provide clinical interventions.

  • Support legislative-dedicated funding for both.

Here's why:

Almost 300,000 American youth are at risk for trafficking into the sex industry.Youth in foster care are especially vulnerable to predators.

Girls in foster care have been recruited by predators at school, in malls and through social media.

Emphasis on “normalcy” for children in foster care encourages child-serving providers to keep youth in their communities and to allow youth to have cell phones. While this allows them to

maintain their social network, it also significantly increases their risk of becoming victimized through commercial sexual exploitation.

The familiar surroundings, relationships and ease of communication through cell phones allow these vulnerable kids to be increasingly accessible to manipulative predators.

In 2012, Florida passed legislation creating Safe Houses for victims of domestic minor sex trafficking – but no monies were appropriated to build capacity to serve or for the treatment necessary to help victims heal.

For more information, visit www.chsfl.org/issues/sextrafficking

Public policy to enhance efficiency for case managers:

  • Reduce the administrative burden on case managers. Limit the amount of data collected to federally mandated data and key legislative outcomes for child welfare. This will increase the ratio of time case managers spend interacting with clients face to face and positively impact job satisfaction and retention.

  • Ensure that when resources (tools, positions, career opportunities, salary) are allocated to child protective investigators, there are equivalent allocations to case management.

  • Promote the sharing of information across state agencies, including AHCA, DOE, DOH, DJJ and DCF (and give access to providers through FSFN) so workers to not have to track down hard copies of documents.

  • Support a legislative appropriation for a specific number of additional case managers statewide to reduce workload issues and increase time spent with children and families.

Here’s why:

Case managers – who enter the field of child welfare to engage children and families – are much more effective and efficient when they're able to regularly interact with the children and families in their care.

But administrative burdens prevent significant interaction and face time – 43 percent of a case manager's time is spent on administrative tasks.

A case manager works an average of 52 hours a week: 22 hours - nearly three full days - are spent in front of a computer. Only 25 percent of time is spent face to face with clients.

Overwhelming administrative burdens detract from face time with clients and increase turnover in case management.

Turnover negatively affects client stability by decreasing the chances of children finding permanent homes through reunification with their families or through adoption.

According to studies, children with one case manager have stability through reunification with their families or through adoption in 74.5 percent of cases.

Among children with two case managers, only 17.5 percent find stability through reunification with their families or through adoption.

Among children with more than six case managers, as few as .1 percent find stability through reunification with their families or through adoption.

High caseloads negatively affect retention, contribute to re-entry of children in the child welfare system and result in children and families receiving fewer services, leading to poor outcomes: failed reunifications, longer stays in care, multiple placements, lower chances of stability.

For more information, visit www.chsfl..org/issues/casemanagement

Maintaining the state's Medicaid Managed Care Reform efforts to serve the Medicaid population and the legislative intent to allow for Specialty Plans to be developed to serve special populations such as children in foster care.

Here’s why:

Kids in the child welfare system don't have proper access to timely and quality health care. This affects approximately 33,000 children.

The general population has access to health care through commercial and Medicaid/Children's Health Insurance Program programs – these kids don't.

Without a solution, taxpayers will continue to see increasing costs with unacceptable results, such as:

  • Children suffering unresolved or worsening health conditions and children with health outcomes that lag their peers.

  • Unsuccessful foster home placements that disrupt and hinder children's education.

  • Children suffering misuse or over-use of psychotropic drugs.

  • Over-use of expensive crisis care for children such as emergency room visits or Baker Act placements.

For more information, visit www.chsfl.org/issues/medicaidreform

Changes to current public policy that will create brighter futures for youth aging our of foster care without families.

Outcomes for these youth can be improved by developing an Independent Living system of accountability to include:

  • Increased accountability standards for organizations to help youth be prepared for life on their own upon reaching age 18.

  • Increased accountability mechanisms for youth in managing their personal financial affairs.

Here’s why:

Every year, more than 1,000 Florida teens in foster care turn 18, becoming "instant adults" on their birthdays. Though the state considers them legal, independent adults, few have any family or support system to rely on ... some even become homeless on their first night as an "adult."

Teens who exit foster care without families have rough roads ahead: 33 percent will be on the streets within three years of leaving foster care; 66 percent are high school dropouts; 50 percent are unemployed. 60 percent will have babies within four years of leaving foster care.

Teens who turn 18 while in foster care have often endured instability amongst their multiple traumas. Few know how to budget, balance a checkbook, find a place to live or even complete a job application. They need our help.\

For more information, visit www.chsfl.org/issues/independentliving

Allocating funds from the education budget to support the development and sustainment of community schools in Florida.

Students attending urban school districts in low-income communities often struggle to focus on their education because of the many other complex challenges they face daily, including:

  • Poverty.

  • Lack of access to adequate health care.

  • Exposure to violence and other crime.

  • Exposure to drugs.

  • Hunger.

  • Abuse or neglect.

It's tough to focus on learning when you're still hungry because there wasn't dinner the previous night ... or because you're still traumatized after witnessing the drive-by shooting earlier that day ... or because you didn't sleep, fearful the domestic violence would seep into your room.

Community schools address the holistic needs of students, recognizing the unique needs and challenges students – and their families face. Many offer:

  • On-site access to health care.

  • On-site food pantries.

  • Counseling.

  • Leadership opportunities.

  • Cultural enrichment activities.

No two community schools are exactly alike - each centers on the community, offering programs, services and opportunities to meet the specific needs of local students and their families, allowing students to focus on their education and future success.

For more information, visit www.chsfl.org/issues/communityschools

Johanna Byrd
Director of Government Affairs and Special Projects , National Association of Social Workers, Florida Chapter

The Florida Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers is part of the world’s largest organization of professional social workers, and represents 5800 professional social workers in Florida.

Social workers have advanced educational preparation and practice experience. A professional social worker must earn a bachelor’s in social work, master’s in social work, or PhD from a program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education. There are 13 Florida universities with accredited programs.

Legislative priorities for children and families

  • Expand the education and training of child welfare workers in schools of social work by drawing down additional federal funds for Title IV-E. Reduce barriers to adoption and expand the pool of permanent homes for foster children.

  • Promote legislation supporting children in foster care or kinship care from placement to adulthood.

  • Expand access to appropriate mental health care in our public schools, including the placement of professional school social workers.

  • Support accessible and affordable health care for all families, including those with Medicaid.

  • Oppose the elimination of or cuts from the medically needy program.

  • Enhance access and usage of the KidCare program for all eligible Florida children.

  • Promote full implementation of the Affordable Care Act and utilization of all available federal funding to improve health care services in Florida.

  • Ensure that elders and those with disabilities have access to needed services, including health care, mental health treatment, support services, and reasonable accommodations.

  • Support service options that allow frail elders and/or those with severe disabilities to safely remain in their homes as desired, and ensure that all persons residing in long-term care facilities receive quality ongoing treatment.

Dr. Barry Hummel
Board of Directors, Tobacco Prevention Network of Florida

The Tobacco Prevention Network of Florida was formed by concerned Floridians to provide a voice for important statewide tobacco prevention issues and initiatives.

Since 1997, Florida has funded comprehensive tobacco prevention and cessation programs throughout the state, using funds from a settlement with the tobacco industry. These programs are designed to reduce youth access to tobacco, help adult tobacco users overcome nicotine addiction, and reduce secondhand smoke exposure among all citizens of Florida.

However, these efforts sometimes bump up against state laws that limit the ability of these programs to fully protect the citizens of Florida and reduce youth access to tobacco.

The Tobacco Prevention Network of Florida is a grass-roots organization, created to educate legislators on these important statewide issues, advocate for common sense laws to reduce the societal costs of tobacco use, and maximize the impact of Florida’s effective tobacco prevention program.

Here are the network's priorities for the 2013 legislative session:

Tobacco settlement spending

Actively support increased funding from the tobacco settlement trust fund for the county-based state and community interventions at a level equivalent to 20 percent of total program expenditures in the 2013-14.

Article X, Section 27 of the Florida Constitution clearly emphasizes the importance of evidence-based youth prevention programs, which are provided exclusively by the County-Based programs.

Despite the fact that these programs have prevented an estimated 50,000 high school students and 30,500 middle school students from starting tobacco use since 2006 (Florida Youth Tobacco Survey results, 2006-2012), the proportion of funds spent on county-based component of the Comprehensive Statewide Tobacco Prevention Program in Florida was reduced to 16.5 percent of the overall program in the 2012-13 budget.

These programs are not funded by tax dollars, but are instead funded by an $11.7 billion settlement of a law suit filed by Florida against the tobacco industry in 1997.

Cigarette User-Fee Loopholes

Actively support closure of a loophole in the current rules regarding cigarette user fees. In 2009, the Florida Legislature increased the cigarette user fee to $1.34 per pack. There were additional changes on other tobacco products as well, but there remains no user fee on cigars in Florida. As a result, the tobacco industry has created a new product category, filtered cigars. These are not premium cigars, but rather smaller flavored products that are inexpensive and appeal to youth.

Quite simply, they are cigarettes wrapped in brown paper, sold in packs of 20, to exploit the lack of a user fee on cigars. A pack of filtered cigars costs 99 cents to $1.69 per pack, compared to $5.79
per pack for traditional cigarettes, increasing youth access and affordability. Changing the definition of
these products to close the loophole will capture this lost revenue, and bring the price in line with other cigarettes to reduce youth access to these products.

Florida Clean Indoor Air Act

Actively the removal of the preemption clause from the Florida Clean Indoor Air Act, which “expressly preempts the regulation of smoking to the state and supersedes any municipal or county ordinance on the subject.”

This eliminates local control, and prevents communities from making common sense rules to protect their citizens, particularly children, from the harmful effects of secondhand smoke. This is especially true in locations where children congregate, such as parks, playgrounds, and athletic fields. It also prevents communities from creating smoke-free environments and marketing those amenities to compete with other smoke-free communities for tourism dollars.

Florida is one of only 13 states that continues to restrict local control of outdoor smoking in this way, which puts us at a competitive disadvantage with the other 37 states.

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