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DCF Seeks Help From Lawmakers to Address Children Who Refuse Placement

October 18th, 2019 by Jake Stofan

The Department of Children and Families is asking lawmakers to help them with a pressing issue: What to do with children in the foster care system who refuse placement.

One idea would be to place the children in secure facilities to ensure they get the services they need, but the idea is receiving pushback.

An investigation by WFLA found foster care children were sleeping in cars and offices in a Tampa facility.

They had refused placement.

“Twenty to 30 children sleeping in an office building. It’s completely unacceptable,” said DCF Secretary Chad Poppell.

Poppell said the issue isn’t isolated.

“This is a problem that’s all over the state,” said Poppell.

Victoria Zepp with the Florida Coalition for Children estimates there a few dozen children in the foster care system who have refused to accept placement and services.

She said often they come from the worst situations.

“The trauma runs deep,” said Zepp.

A controversial idea endorsed by Poppell would be to put the kids in secure facilities where services can be administered, which some have likened to prisons.

Poppell said it’s a mischaracterization.

“This is not a detention facility, but it is a secured facility where you can get treatment,” said Poppell.

Zepp warns it’s a fine line.

“At what point clinically do you force a child to be able to have an intervention that will truly save their life?” Said Zepp.

The Florida Coalition for Children is endorsing increased wrap around services for the most vulnerable kids in the foster care system.

One goal floated by DCF is to refocus the agency to prevent kids from entering the system on the front end.

Whatever the strategy, Poppell said one thing is clear.

“We’re not serving these children well and I’m not doing my job if I don’t look for other alternatives,” said Zepp.

On a positive note, community based care programs are hopeful that Senator Wilton Simpson, who has been designated as the next Senate President, has vowed to make the foster care system one of his top priorities.

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