• Nazareth

Florida took thousands of kids from families, then failed to keep them safe.

Six years ago, Florida lawmakers embraced a tough new approach to stop parents from abusing their children.

They approved millions of dollars to hire more child welfare investigators and rewrote rules to make it easier to seize children from their parents. 

Then they told investigators to rewire their thinking. Instead of looking for every way possible to keep families together, they had a new priority: protect children at all costs.

The plan, signed into law by then-Gov. Rick Scott, was widely embraced as a historic stand against child abuse, a crucial rethinking of philosophy that had made regulators soft on abusers.

But there was a problem. No one had figured out where to put all the children.

In a matter of months, the foster care system found itself drowning in hundreds of new cases. By 2017, the state needed space for 6,000 additional foster children – an influx equivalent to the size of the entire foster population of the state of New Jersey.

But lawmakers, child welfare leaders and Scott did not hire more caseworkers or increase the money paid to foster families to make more homes available. And they failed to tackle the root problems driving most of the removals: lack of access to drug treatment, mental health care and domestic violence services for parents.

Instead, they stood by as foster care agencies packed children into overcrowded homes and sent nearly 200 boys and girls to foster parents previously accused of abusing or neglecting the children in their care, a USA TODAY investigation found.


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