MIAMI (CBSMiami/NSF) – Governor Rick Scott will kick off his “Caring for Florida’s Families” tour in Miami.
The tour will highlight new proposals and recent efforts to give the state’s children opportunities to succeed. In addition to the early learning and foster care elements, Scott also wants to expand a program that helps parents pay for education services for disabled children.
“Every child deserves to grow up in a healthy and happy environment, get a great education, and enjoy every opportunity to succeed,” Scott said in a statement. “We care about our children and our families and we want this to be the best state for them to thrive.”
The push comes as Scott tries to soften his image and broaden his re-election platform beyond the focus on jobs and the economy that defined his campaign four years ago.
Scott’s plan calls for more support for foster and adoptive parents through an ombudsman program, which would designate one person to deal with the challenges faced by foster parents, and by pushing for more support groups and counselors for adoptive parents.
At least one advocate said those programs would help those parents deal with frustrating situations, and perhaps address a shortage of foster parents in Florida.
“It will keep foster parents doing the work,” said Alan Abramowitz, executive director of Florida Guardian ad Litem.
The proposal also says the state should focus more on providing job training and industry certification for children who “age out” of the foster care program.
On early learning, Scott says the state should set up “a system of incentives and assessments” for preschool instructors. Efforts to strengthen accountability for early-learning programs during the 2014 legislative session collapsed because of differences between the House and Senate.
Scott also calls for shortening the waiting lists for those programs.
And the governor’s plan would expand the number of state-backed “personal learning accounts,” which provide up to $9,000 for parents to help pay for education services for children with disabilities. Lawmakers provided $18.4 million for the program in the budget year that begins July 1. A spokesman said Scott’s campaign wasn’t prepared to offer a specific dollar amount for the expansion.
The tour was announced after Scott signed a bill (SB 1666) Monday meant to overhaul the state’s child-welfare system in response to increased scrutiny caused by child deaths and media reports.
The bill creates rapid-response teams to conduct immediate investigations of child deaths, establishes the Florida Institute for Child Welfare to conduct policy research and creates the position of assistant secretary for child welfare at the Department of Children and Families.
It will also use tuition waivers and loan-forgiveness programs to help child-protection staffers earn social-work degrees. The new law also aims to keep siblings together and medically fragile children in their homes and communities as much as possible.
“This legislation puts child safety first, which puts all our efforts in perspective,” said House Healthy Families Subcommittee Chairwoman Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart, in a statement provided by the governor’s office.
The News Service of Florida’s Brandon Larrabee contributed to this report.