DCF Announces Robust Child and Family Well-Being Initiative to Better Support Families

Press release from Florida Department of Children and Families

Yesterday, Department of Children and Families (Department) Secretary Shevaun Harris announced the creation of a Family Navigator initiative to enhance the safety and well-being of Florida children after a report of potential child abuse or neglect.

After reviewing past child welfare cases and reports to determine commonalities and further evaluating current practices, the Department developed a new model aimed at addressing deficiencies in the child welfare system, including enhanced engagement and ensuring families receive the right supportive services at the right time. This new model will enhance the Department’s engagement efforts with families, further promoting safe, resilient families.

“Building on the recent momentum of historic funding for Florida’s child welfare system, the Department has gathered industry leaders from all parts of our system to help create supports to enhance the well-being of Florida’s families,” said Secretary Shevaun Harris. “With the deployment of Family Navigators, the Department will use these clinicians to meet families where they are to help parents and children heal from trauma and overcome mental health and substance abuse challenges to help promote safe, resilient families.”

Over the last few weeks, the Department has worked with child protection and behavioral health leaders across the state to form a new strategy, which will improve supports for child protective investigators (CPI) to enhance outcomes for Florida’s families.

“Secretary Harris’ push to enhance the engagement and support we provide to families in the system is the right way we should be approaching protection and prevention,” said Wilmine Merilan-Louis, Child Protective Investigative Supervisor, Broward County Sheriff’s Office. “We must continue to examine our practices and figure out what is working and where we can make improvements. The children of our state deserve this kind of innovation and leadership, and the Broward County Sheriff’s Office is energized by this new model and forward thinking.”

“Ensuring that our survivors have the resources they need to thrive in the community is our top priority,” said Dr. Gail Patin, Chief Executive Officer of Hubbard House. “We know that partnership among providers, advocates, and the state is vital to enhancing the system. We are encouraged by the Department’s leadership and thank them for convening today’s panel and for the Family Navigator initiative.”

“Integration of behavioral health and child welfare is at the foundation of our mission at Citrus Health,” said Maria Alonso, Chief Operating Officer of Citrus Health Network. “Our vision will only come to fruition if we holistically wrap our services around our families to further ensure their well-being. This announcement by the Department is an encouraging step forward, and we are excited to be part of the implementation.”  

“When we work with a family in crisis, it is imperative that the right supports are not only offered, but utilized to further stabilize and enhance recovery,” said Mike Watkins, Chief Executive Officer of Northwest Florida Health Network. “It is clear that, through intentional collaboration with community partners and with Secretary Harris’ recommendations, we can ensure that Florida’s families have not just access, but engagement to the appropriate, timely help they need and deserve that will help them overcome the challenges they are presented with.”

“A cornerstone of the field of psychiatry is relying on evidence-based methods, and working with an administration that values enhancing accountability for mental health and substance abuse providers is encouraging for us to hear,” said Dr. Courtney Phillips, Director of Behavioral Health, Health Care District of Palm Beach County. “Most importantly, in order to improve the well-being of Florida’s families, we must employ a model shift that focuses on implementing 24-7 access to evidence-based compassionate substance use care that is available throughout the lifespan of the patient due to its chronic nature.”

“As a person with lived experience of the system, I know that in concrete times of need, positive social connections and understanding can make a world of difference for a family,” said Victoria Camper, Parent Representative. “This model has the capacity to support families through authentic engagement and coordination of services.”

A key component of ensuring child safety, and family well-being, is activating community resources, supports, and mental health treatment services timely and appropriately. As trained clinicians, Family Navigators will work alongside the CPI and family to quickly help assess, locate, and provide pivotal services to ensure the family unit is stabilized, safe, and on a pathway to building a resilient family unit. Florida’s child and family well-being system will continue to invest in fully embodying a trauma-responsive system of care where the Department, Community-Based Care organizations, and Managing Entities come together to provide more meaningful services that promote positive outcomes to enhance the overall, long-term well-being of the family.

The Department will create a new Family Navigators resource:

  • Create a Family Navigator resource that focuses on supporting family well-being, understanding the needs of families contending with complex family dynamics, substance abuse, and mental health crises. 
    • Through deployment of the Family Navigator, the Department will implement a statewide Behavioral Health Care model to immediately triage cases to provide “early engagement-early treatment” to help high-risk families.
    • The Family Navigator will deploy strategies designed to rapidly engage families in services, work closely with providers to ensure service linkage, and provide follow-up and support to monitor for effective delivery of services.

The Department will also implement the following additional actions:

  • Start the family’s risk assessment immediately once an investigation is commenced.
  • Embed second-level consultation services for child protective investigators for cases with a higher propensity of risk for enhanced decision making.
  • Enhance accountability throughout the state’s substance abuse and mental health treatment providers to ensure families in the child welfare system who are identified as having high needs have access to critical services.
  • Maximize appropriate resources to require the managing entities to have a robust provider network that, within 72 hours, can provide immediate services for substance abuse and mental health.
  • Unite community partners and providers to ensure more meaningful resources and services are offered that result in behavior changes.
  • Prioritize historical funding with more than $27.1 million for mental health and $73.9 million for substance abuse to ensure Florida’s families have access to critical supports and services.
  • Standardize the Department’s Substance Exposed Newborn program to expand on best practices to help mothers contending with substance abuse disorders recover and provide safe, healthy environments for their infants.
  • Revise departmental child protection and behavioral health care policies to decrease time to services and to enhance the state’s overall practices to drive behavioral change and well-being for Florida families.

These actions will ensure that the Department will work to activate communities across our state to wrap vulnerable families with intensive supports to maintain children in a safe, united home. Along with the Department’s vast programs, partners, and providers, the Office of Child and Family Well-Being will work to closely integrate safety and well-being into the system of care to enhance service capacity and supports for families.  

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