ORLANDO, Fla. — In the last two decades, seven of Florida’s 67 counties have handled their own investigations into child abuse and neglect, which is about to come to an end.
The Department of Children and Families will soon take over for Broward, Hillsborough, Manatee, Pasco, Pinellas, Seminole, and Walton Counties, despite the fact that DCF is facing staffing shortages.
In a February letter from DCF, the state agency notified the sheriffs of these seven counties that it would be transitioning their services to the state.
“I don’t think right upfront anyone’s going to notice a difference,” says Robin Rosenberg, the Deputy Director of Florida’s Children First. “I do think that DCF is moving in a direction to be more supportive of families so that fewer children have to be removed and that they are they’ve created a program where they have family navigators that can work alongside the investigators to help those families get the services they need before things come to a crisis point.”
In a statement, the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office said it supports the transition, writing, “It simply makes sense considering the transient society Florida has shifted into over the years. This will help to ensure that services provided and received across the state are consistent.”
But the move comes as DCF is experiencing significant staffing shortages tied in no small part to low pay for case managers and investigators. The turnover rate for investigators is 71%.
In his 2023-24 budget request, Governor Ron DeSantis wrote, “The Department is experiencing unacceptably high vacancy rates, which is especially evident within the critical classes who provide direct services to Florida’s most vulnerable citizens.”
DCF insists it will work with the legislature to formulate a plan to ensure a smooth transition so that no cases fall through the cracks.
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