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Survey: Florida’s Child Welfare System In Top 5 Nationwide

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TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami) – Florida’s child welfare system is one of the top five in the nation according to a new survey.

The 2012 Right For Kids Rankings report, which was released Friday, ranks Florida fourth in the nation when it came to providing key services.

“We are committed to ensuring the safety and well-being of our children, especially those in foster care,” said Department of Children and Families Secretary David Wilkins in a statement. “As we continue to implement our plans to improve our operational efficiency and the measurements of the health and educational well-being of Florida’s children, we will continue to be a model for the nation.”

The Right For Kids survey noted that though the efforts of DCF and the Florida Coalition for Children (FCC), Florida was the only state to meet five “key” findings.

  • Florida is one of only 11 states that have a 24-hour response to investigate claims of abuse or neglect.
  • Florida is one of only 12 states that visit the vast majority of foster kids monthly.
  • Florida is one of only 9 states that quickly and safely return foster children home to their biological families when possible.
  • Florida is one of only 9 states that ensure short and stable stays in foster care as a general practice.
  • Florida is one of only 11 states that help find forever families quickly for a large share of children in foster care.

Since 2006, Florida has moved up 12 spots in the rankings, according to the report. DCF contracts with 18 nonprofit community-based care organizations to serve as lead agencies that are responsible for a wide array of services, including prevention, foster care and adoption. Each has succeeded by nurturing its own local ecosystem of foster parents, service providers and professional staff tailored to meet the unique needs of their community.

DCF came under fire after the 2011 death of Nubia Barahona. On Valentine’s Day her body was found in the back up a pick up truck along I-95 in Palm Beach County. Her twin brother Victor was found in the cab with serious chemical burns. The children’s foster parents were arrested and charged with abuse and murder. The police investigation in Barahona’s death criticized DCF for failing to piece together warning signs from medical professionals and school officials that something was wrong in the Barahona home. The agency blamed it on a system wide failure, including poor judgment by child protective investigators, overwhelming caseloads and missed opportunities at every turn.

“Since that day, every decision we have made has been to help ensure such a tragedy does not occur again. This death highlighted numerous issues in our child welfare system that needed to be addressed in order to improve the child protection program,” said Wilkens on the one year anniversary of .

After Blue Ribbon investigative panel outlined the key problems with the agency, DCF went to work to improve agency.

Wilkins said in the last year they’ve hire more child protective investigators and are working with law enforcement more closely than ever to coordinate investigations.

In the memo he also listed a number of other new initiatives, both implemented and proposed, to make the agency more efficient.

“Implementation of these recommendations will dramatically improve the child protection system and provide a more seamless and focused system to allow investigators to make the critical, real-time decisions necessary to save children’s lives, “said Wilkins in the memo. “To do anything less would only compound the tragedy of Nubia’s death.”

Since privatizing, Florida has reduced the number of children in foster care from 30,000 to less than 20,000 currently.

In the 2012 Right For Kids Rankings Idaho came in first, followed by New Hampshire and North Carolina. New Jersey rounded out the top five.

Click Here for more on the 2012 Right For Kids Ranking.

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