May is National Foster Care Month, and states like Florida are still adjusting to federal changes put in place three years ago.
The Family First Prevention Services Act, signed into law in 2018 as part of a stop-gap budget bill, was backed by the belief children in difficult home situations fare best staying with their parents.
Kurt Kelly, CEO and president of the Florida Coalition for Children, a group that advocates for young people at risk, said the law was a game-changer.
However, he cautioned it was also a bit shortsighted, pushing kids out of residential or group care where they have access to 24-hour wraparound services.
“That means we’re going to need more foster families,” Kelly explained. “And we’re going to need more foster families that have even more training and skill sets to be able to handle these more acute cases. And so, that’s an area we’re really working on.”
The most recent data show Florida has more than 22,600 kids in out-of-home-care. Bills that would’ve addressed such issues as licensure and operation of family foster homes, died in committee during the legislative session.
Kelly thinks foster families haven’t gotten enough thanks for stepping up to care at the most critical time for a child in need. He pointed out Florida’s foster parents are paid around $16 a day, so it’s a myth families are in it for the money.
“They bring them in, and they show true love and compassion, and care for them in a very deeply distrusting time,” Kelly observed. “In a child who doesn’t have the skill sets to handle all of this. And these folks are there for them.”
Kelly stressed more families are needed to be foster parents to older children in the system.
Florida gives young adults aging out of foster care the option for extended foster care or independent living. Those who “age out” at 18 can remain in care until they’re 21, or, if they’re continuing their education, they can tap into ongoing case-management services.