It’s a sobering look at reality: If we don’t invest in child welfare case management, children in foster care will pay the price.
Consider this: A child in foster care who has only one case manager has a 75 percent chance of either safely returning home or joining a family through adoption; a child with two case managers has a 17.5 percent chance; a child with four has only a 2.2 percent chance. That’s a 2.2 percent chance of finding stability and leaving the system.
Now throw this into the mix: Florida struggles with a 30.4 percent turnover rate among case managers and an average stay on the job of just 2.2 years.
But even dire statistics don’t accurately depict what this really means. They aren’t mere numbers — they represent victimized children who languish in uncertainty, who will continue to languish if Florida does not address the challenges that accompany significant turnover in case management.
Putting it bluntly, we can’t afford to accept “what is.” Our kids deserve better. And so do our communities. It’s time to invest in successful outcomes for children in foster care.
That begins with a commitment to quality case management, to our workforce. We must invest in the professionals who dedicate their days, nights and weekends to helping children who have endured pain so severe that they can’t even live safely in their own homes.
These professionals are responsible for making life-and-death decisions on a near-daily basis. They are responsible for helping children and families overcome insurmountable challenges. And they are responsible for 12, 15, 25, sometimes 30 or 40 children at any given time, according to a 2014 study by the Florida Coalition for Children.
Currently, their charge is nearly impossible — and we cannot let this legislative session pass without changing that. We must invest in lower case loads and higher salaries for our state’s case managers. It’s no longer an option — it’s a necessity that has been proven to improve retention and thus improve outcomes for children. That’s what this is about: children.
I’ve seen what can happen when states invest in their child welfare workforce. I’ve also seen what can happen when they don’t. Though I’m new to Florida, my career in child welfare spans 15 years where I have worked with seven states — and never before have I seen such an incredible opportunity to make sustainable changes for children.
Florida has already garnered national attention for its innovative approaches in serving kids, for its unique methods in tackling complex issues plaguing far too many families. All eyes are on us.
But none of that matters — our potential can’t be fully realized — if our state does not invest in the front lines, in the first responders who see families at their most vulnerable.
If we are to live up to our reputation as a forward-thinking leader for the rest of the country, then we must do the right thing for children. We must give them a chance to heal, to find stability and to seize the opportunity for a better future.
Nearly 20,000 children are counting us. Let’s not let them down.
Michael Shaver is president and CEO of Children’s Home Society of Florida. He wrote this exclusively for the Tampa Bay Times.