The move toward privatization, as well as the Kayla legislation, resulted in a number of collaborations among DCF and community agencies and social service programs. The following sections describe several of these partnerships that have evolved in recent years.
The purpose of the mandated law enforcement referral review is to ensure that local law enforcement agencies are made aware of serious maltreatment cases that require an immediate response to protect the child. For the most part, law enforcement officials report that this partnership works well. Occasionally, there have been differences of opinion between DCF and law enforcement regarding recommendations to the court; however, the agencies typically work in a close and cooperative partnership. The sheriff’s office generally considers maltreatment cases to be the purview of DCF, unless there is a clear indication of criminal activity.
Dependency Drug Court
The Dependency Drug Court is a program offered by the 8th Judicial Circuit. This circuit covers approximately one-half of District 3, including Union County. The Dependency Drug Court is a specialty court used when a dependency petition is filed and the caregiver has experienced substance abuse. Participation in the Dependency Drug Court is a means by which a parent, after successfully completing the program, can demonstrate readiness for the return of his or her child. This option requires less time than traditional service options. In addition to substance abuse treatment, parents who participate in Dependency Drug Court attend parenting classes, anger management classes, and other services as appropriate to their particular issues. The phases of the program are listed below.
- The first, intensive phase of the program, which lasts approximately 90–120 days, requires participation for a minimum of 4 times per day, 4 times per week. This phase requires that the parent participate in treatment groups and drug testing. The parent remains in Phase I until he or she is able to maintain sobriety. During this phase, treatment staff, DCF, and court representatives meet weekly to evaluate the participant’s progress. Participants are provided with case management to aid the participant in finding employment, affordable housing, and other services as needed.
- There are three additional phases, with each phase consisting of less frequent requirements for participation in treatment over a longer duration. In the final phase, Phase IV, the children are returned to the home and the parent graduates from the program. Upon graduation, former participants can take part in a peer mentoring program to support new program entrants. Participants enter the program in cohorts and generally move through the program in groups. This format encourages the formation of strong cohesion among group members who provide support for one another and hold one another accountable for their choices.
The program was modeled after the Adult Drug Court, which was created for felons. The Alcohol, Drug Abuse, and Mental Health program office within DCF provided funding to create the Dependency Drug Court. The same funds were used to create a Juvenile Drug Court. The court is funded by both Federal and State monies, primarily from an ASFA grant. The goals of the program are to support the parent in learning to live clean and sober and to help the individual to become a better parent. The program maintains the integrity of the court as a judicial body, while providing the support and encouragement for parents to make the changes necessary to resume their parenting responsibilities.
Guardian Ad Litem
The Guardian Ad Litem serves as an advocate for the best interests of a child in court dependency petitions. A small number of paid administrative staff and volunteer advocates staff the office. When DCF brings a dependency case to court, the court appoints a Guardian Ad Litem (GAL). The GAL attends all court events and mediation sessions and has contact with the child at least once per month. The GAL ensures that the child’s interests are represented in the court system for all dependency cases; networks with all parties to the dependency petition and supporting agencies to gather pertinent information; and makes recommendations to the court to serve the child’s best interests.
Child Protection Team
The Child Protection Team (CPT) is a medically-based, multidisciplinary group of professionals operating through the University of Florida’s Department of Pediatrics. The CPT reviews all maltreatment allegations and provides medical evaluations for allegations of physical and sexual abuse, consultation to recommend services, court testimony, and psychological evaluations. All allegations that go to the State hotline are screened by the CPT. Cases that are screened out by the CPT can be referred back to the CPT by DCF for evaluation, if appropriate. The primary goal of the CPT is to provide a medical assessment of allegations of child abuse and a formalized multidisciplinary risk assessment for maltreatment referrals.
The Nurturing Program operates in an area that encompasses 16 counties and includes all of the counties in District 3. The program focuses on parenting education and offers intensive home visits. An important criterion for a family’s entry into the program is low risk for maltreatment. Most referrals are received from the investigative unit of CPS; Healthy Start often refers cases that require additional prevention services to the Nurturing Program. The average duration of service delivery is 8–18 months. A caseworker typically carries 10–12 families simultaneously and the program serves 400–600 families annually. In addition to home visiting, the Nurturing Program provides group counseling in drug treatment centers, maternal health facilities, teen pregnancy centers, and teen parenting programs in high schools.
Family Builders is a private program that provides targeted mental health services to DCF, other public agencies, and private individuals. The program provides counseling, emergency financial assistance, therapeutic activities, and case management.
The role of Family Builders in DCF cases follows two general trajectories. The first is to facilitate preservation for families whose child is at risk of removal from the home. The second is to facilitate reunification for families after the child has been removed from the home for more than 30 days. Family Builder’s goals are three fold — to preserve the family unit when possible, to optimize family functioning for families of at-risk children, and to facilitate successful reunification following removal by DCF.
Meridian Behavioral Health Care
Meridian is a private program that provides complete behavioral health care to individuals and families through a variety of funding sources, including DCF. In addition to child and family counseling, it provides substance abuse programs and psychological assessments. It also provides comprehensive needs assessments that incorporate mental health and substance abuse assessments, home visits, and in-school observation. Previously, Meridian provided these services directly; however, services are currently contracted out to private therapists. The goal of Meridian is to provide a single source for obtaining a wide variety of mental and behavioral health services.
Peaceful Paths is a local program that provides shelter, counseling, and service referral to victims of domestic violence. Peaceful Paths provides an emergency shelter, a transitional housing unit, victim advocacy, counseling and support groups, adult and child domestic violence assessments, and education and outreach services. Through an interagency agreement, Peaceful Paths and DCF have outlined a mutual commitment to protect the children and the nonoffending parent in cases where they shared clients. This agreement enables communication between the agencies to ensure that the children and family are served and ensures confidentiality protections required by the respective agencies. While domestic violence shelters are considered mandatory reporters with regards to child maltreatment, confidentiality agreements restrict the shelter’s ability to share information regarding the nonoffending parent. The interagency agreement enables Peaceful Paths to provide information to DCF regarding the nonoffending parent’s progress in the program, including information about group counseling attendance, topics covered in counseling, child care arrangements, employment, and participation in other services.
The template for the interagency agreement arose through legislative mandate. However, the final agreement required one year of negotiation between the program and DCF to establish a basis for the partnership. The final agreement clarifies the referral process between the agencies and defines the proper channels of communication. Ultimately, both agencies have sought to support one another in facilitating the well-being of the children and families that enter their agencies seeking services.