TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – State lawmakers heard from the head of the Florida Department of Children and families Tuesday morning.
The agency provided updates on the pandemic, addressing sexual abuse allegations from foster children and the ongoing fight to return millions in taxpayer dollars used for excessive salaries by the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
Domestic violence and child abuse calls have nearly returned to normal levels after dropping dramatically at the start of the pandemic.
DCF Secretary Chad Poppell said the agency is also seeing more overdoses, mental health concerns and evictions.
“We’ve got 40,000 evictions filed around the state,” said Poppell.
There are also 1.3 million new Floridians receiving benefits like food stamps and Medicaid.
“We’re working on some strategies to try and work with that population to help them get back on their feet,” said Poppell.
The Secretary heard concerns from lawmakers regarding allegations of sexual abuse by foster parents.
Over the past four years, only 10% of nearly 300 allegations were verified by the agency.
“These are pieces of information that they cannot make up unless they’ve had to live through or endure what those things are,” said State Senator Lauren Book.
Poppell indicated DCF will begin utilizing its critical response team to review cases and establish a special investigations unit to better address alleged sexual abuse by foster care parents.
The Secretary asked lawmakers to work on policy to make the changes permanent.
Poppell also updated lawmakers on the state’s effort to recover $7 million in taxpayer dollars used to pay excessive executive salaries by the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
The contract, once guaranteed to the coalition in a statute, is now up for bid.
Lawmakers said more safeguards will need to be in place.
“Putting names into statute is dangerous. I think that then people think they are above the law. And they are not,” said Book.
And retaining child protective investigators remains a persistent issue at DCF. The turnover rate sits at 43%.