Florida foster agencies seek $40M to ease caseload, improve services

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida’s foster care system is in crisis. Low pay coupled with an already stressful work environment has people leaving at record levels. Agencies are seeking an increase of $40 million this year to make caseloads more manageable.

Going into someone’s home to check on their kids’ welfare can be not only stressful but dangerous. COVID-19 has made child protection workers’ jobs tougher. 

“This is in a crisis level right now,” says Kurt Kelly, the CEO of the Florida Coalition for Children.

The agency works with the state’s 18 child services providers and more than 70 other organizations that provide care or work with adoptions.

“In some areas, we’re having as much as 50 and 60 percent turnover,” Kelly said.

Because of the turnover, caseloads for protection workers are hitting as high as 40 kids. National recommendations call for a caseload of 12.

“There’s been increase anxiety,” said Dr. Christine Cauffield, who is the CEO of LSF Health systems. It serves 23 counties in Northeast and North Central Florida, where cases have exploded.

“Domestic violence instances have increased. Child abuse cases have increased as a result of people’s inability to modulate their mental health,” said Cauffield.

A Batchelor’s degree is required for caseworkers. Salaries are not competitive said Kelly.

“And they are getting paid less than someone who says ‘would you like to supersize that sir?’” Kelly said.

Lawmakers are being asked to put another $40 million into the system for salaries. We’re being told that will bring the caseloads down from as many as 40, to 15, 16, or 17.

And while no one is saying it out loud, caseloads more than three times the national standard means at-risk children are seeing fewer services. The result has been a large increase in children Baker Acted for their own safety in 2020.   

Providers said it will take at least six months to stabilize their workforces once the money has been provided, which wouldn’t be before July 1. That means high caseloads will be the norm for the rest of the year.