Foster Care Needs Community Involvement

by Alvin W. Wolfe

(published in the Tampa Tribune, Feb 23, 2004)


Sherri Ackerman’s article “Foster Care Agencies Take Different Paths Amid Budget Crunch,”(Feb 19) was highly informative about how privatization of child welfare works. Florida’s perennial “Budget Crunch” makes it impossible to care for, educate, and prepare adequately for adult life the poor children who become wards of the State of Florida.


Leaving aside the basic question of why doesn’t our relatively wealthy state spend enough to take care of these kids, there are a few points that need elaboration.


Ackerman wrote: “Part of the attraction of community-based care is local providers decide where best to spend the money.” That was certainly the attraction in selling privatization, and hence the wonderful phrase, “community-based care.” However, it is not working out that way. 


Despite that feel-good label given to the reorganization of the Department of Children and Families in 2000, it actually removed child protection, foster care, and adoption systems from local control and centralized them in Tallahassee. It is now very difficult for those persons who do care to have their voices heard.


The Florida Statute that establishes community based care also mandates that there shall be “in each county” a “community alliance,” “to provide a focal point for community participation and governance of community-based services.” Neither Pinellas nor Hillsborough have local organizations that meet the statutory definition. The law, in part, reads:

The duties of the community alliance shall include:

1.  Joint planning for resource utilization in the community.

2.  Needs assessment and establishment of community priorities for service delivery.

3.  Determining community outcome goals to supplement state-required outcomes.

4.  Serving as a catalyst for community resource development.

5.  Providing for community education and advocacy.

6.  Promoting prevention and early intervention.


Ackerman did not mention that East Coast counties are getting a lot more funds for the care of their foster kids than are Hillsborough and Pinellas. Had we organized appropriately, we would not have to let the Governor and the Legislature get away with such shoddy treatment.   


Perhaps even sadder than the fact that the state spends so little on its wards is the fact that our local communities do nothing about it.


Alvin W. Wolfe, Ph.D., is Chair of the Florida Health and Human Services Board, Inc., (