TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — It has been a trying three years of leading the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) for Secretary Shevaun Harris, but she is optimistic about eliminating a staffing shortage and office sleepovers.
The emergency overnight placements were exposed by 8 On Your Side several years ago, and recent reporting revealed the problem still exists.
Yarellis Martir said she recently refused an overnight placement in a Manatee County office.
“They were saying that is where they were going to make me sleep,” Martir said. “I was like no. It’s not safe.”
Harris said the first goal is to keep children out of the foster care system.
“I would say we’ve made great strides. We never want the child to sleep in an office,” Harris said. “That should only be where we’re calling around and trying to find a placement in a short period of time. Never a daily occurrence.”
Harris said DCF hopes keeping families together and working with stressed parents on understanding their responsibilities will help reduce the number of children in the system.
The agency is actively recruiting foster parents to provide more beds for children removed from their homes, according to Harris. She said DCF assistance is important once someone is licensed.
“I think the kinds of support we offer to couples who are interested in fostering as well as the support that we’re offering to dads,” Harris said. “That will help.”
DCF has also been trying to solve a severe shortage of staff.
Late last year, the agency reported a nearly 24% percent staffing vacancy and huge turnover in its investigative unit.
Just over 71% of Child Protective Investigators (CPI) and more than 56% of Adult Protective Investigators (API) left their jobs last fiscal year.
Harris said recruiting efforts are working, cutting the overall vacancy rate to 7%.
New policies to help avoid burnout are also in place, including reducing administrative duties. Harris said the agency also added “family navigators” to help CPIs with the most difficult cases.
“For our highest risk cases, we’re pairing a CPI with a family navigator who’s walking alongside them and supporting that family,” Harris said. “We’re really looking at the reducing administrative burden from our CPI’s and also amplified the level of support we’re offering them.”