Proposed DCF overhaul creating problems

Advocates: Problems will be found with no money for solutions

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Advocates for abused and neglected children are raising red flags over pending legislation that drastically expands the number of child abuse investigators. The problem -- lack of funding once the state knows who is being abused or neglected.

Providers say they have less money today to care for abused and neglected kids than they did in 2007, yet the numbers needing care are rising.

Gov. Rick Scott is proposing hiring 400 new child protection investigators at a cost of $39 million.

"We still have much to do to protect the most vulnerable among us," Scott said.

But advocates came out in droves at a House Appropriations Committee.

"There's not enough (money). I don't think it goes far enough in this bill for us to help protect the lives of kids in the state of Florida," said Mike Watkins, with Big Bend Community Based Care.

Advocates say the hiring of investigators without spending more on services once problems are found is short-sighted.

"If we don't have good prevention, if we don't have good subsidies, if we don't have good mental health, and we don't have good domestic violence, we're really wasting money on doing better investigations," Watkins said.

The idea to beef up child protection followed a series of stories that linked 477 deaths of children who were under Department of Children and Families supervision to a lack of follow-up by the state.

But budget makers said they are doing all they can do.

"A lot of advocates all over the state are asking for a lot of money," said Rep. Seth McKeel. "We have a $75 billion budget. We're going to do the best we can to take care of as many people as we possibly can."

Without more services to help stressed families, advocates said the state will only be doing a better job of tracking problems without being able to do anything about those problems.