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New Program Visualizes Foster-Care Placement Instability

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Florida's Department of Children and Families claims the state's 19 community-based care lead agencies are surpassing federal performance standards for child-placement stability. (bandita/Flickr)
Florida's Department of Children and Families claims the state's 19 community-based care lead agencies are surpassing federal performance standards for child-placement stability. (bandita/Flickr)
 By Trimmel Gomes - Producer, Contact
February 18, 2019

MIAMI — The goal for the thousands of children in Florida's foster care program is to find forever homes. But a new tracking system developed at the University of Miami shows the dream for many children is short-lived.

Many kids don't even unpack because of the uncertainty over how long they will stay in a foster home - which sometimes can be as little as a few hours. After combing through thousands of youth records at the Florida Department of Children and Families, Robert Latham, associate director of the university’s Youth Law Clinic, mapped the placement path of every child in foster care since 2002.

He found 80 percent of kids met national placement standards for being moved around. But he noticed troubling outcomes for the remaining 20 percent.

"That captured the kind of absurdity of a kid having 35 houses over the course of two years,” Latham said. “Right? I mean, who lives in 35 houses in two years? That's just not OK. "

State officials point out the the tremendous trauma experienced by some children that makes it difficult for them to trust an adult. According to state data, Florida's rate of 4.8 placements per thousand days in foster care comes in just over the national standard of 4.2.

Chris Card is chief of community-based care at Eckerd Connects, which manages child-welfare cases for Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties. He said thanks to federal funding, the state developed a data-tracking system to track touchpoints such as a child's performance in school, problems with parents and other factors to identify red flags.

He said that system has been in place for about twenty years, and Latham's program is just another step forward.

"Kids with some problems are starting to pop up a little bit earlier than the older systems that we’ve had developed, but it's been an ongoing process,” Card said. “I think we've just gotten more sophisticated, a little bit better. And this last rendition is something even better. "

Both Latham and Card agree Florida's foster-care system is overwhelmed and operating on very few resources. Latham said he'd like to see the state dig deeper to track the number of times a child is arrested, involuntarily committed or returns to foster care after adoption.

He said he'd like to see a review panel formed to examine why a child is left bouncing around from home-to-home similar to those formed when a child dies in the system.

"I think if we put that kind of focus and intent on this problem, I think it could really be reduced,” he said. “Again, it's certainly not OK that 19,000 kids have had 10 or more placements. That's not OK. "

Card said the state needs to provide foster families and nonprofits with greater resources and support. And Latham added it also comes down to having more foster families in the system, which he said gives a child better options for making their first placement the last.

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