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Opinion
Palm Coast Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019 7 months ago

Sheriff Rick Staly: Don't let Florida's at-risk children slip through the cracks

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U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio has introduced a bill to reconnect youth ranches with DCF.
by: Guest Writer

By Rick Staly

Flagler County sheriff

There are hundreds of Florida children for whom the system cannot find a foster family or who do not require intensive treatment at a residential treatment facility. For these kids, the answer has always been to partner with family style residential group care organizations like the Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranches. However, under new federal law, the Department of Children and Families will no longer seek to place children in the type of family-style group care the Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranches offer.

The sad result is these children, who are not delinquent kids and could not select their parents at birth, will either be left in a dysfunctional family, remaining at risk for experiencing abuse or neglect, or with a relative caregiver who is unable to meet their specific needs, or be simply passed from one foster home to another.

This makes no sense for children or Florida taxpayers.

In 2018, as Congress rushed to pass a budget, it included a major change in federal child welfare law known as the Family First Prevention Services Act. Its goals are admirable, but the major defect in this legislation is eliminating an important option for some children who are without functional families and have specific needs to live in the care setting that is best for them. For example, the Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranches, St. Augustine Youth Services, Boys Town, and the Florida United Methodist Children's Home all keep siblings together. With this new law, brothers and sisters will be welcome at fewer places.

Thankfully, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio has introduced a bill with bipartisan support to fix this problem. He is joined by U.S. Sen. Rick Scott and a number of members of Florida's congressional delegation. All members of Congress from Florida and across America should support this "fix it" bill.

The State Flexibility for Family First Transitions Act simply gives Florida a two-year extension to assess and determine the impact of losing family style residential group homes from the continuum of child care homes like the Florida Sheriff's Youth Ranches can be preserved as an option. Passing this bill will enable us to better protect and serve at risk children and retain our fair share of tax dollars sent to Washington, D.C.

Together, we must be the voice for these children. Failure to do so will likely result in delinquent children or adults that have no productive future and is a failure of our society to protect the most vulnerable members of our community.

Flagler County Sheriff Rick Staly serves on the Board of Directors of the Florida Sheriff's Youth Ranches, a non-profit with a mission to prevent delinquency and develop lawful, resilient, and productive citizens.

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