Privatizing Child Welfare: How It’s Going in South Florida

June 6, 2019 by Robert Franklin, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

I’ve reported before that the State of Texas seems bent on privatizing all or much of its child welfare services.  If Miami-Dade and Monroe counties in south Florida are any indication, Texas officials might want to think again (Miami New Times, 6/5/19).

The last two contracts let by those counties to a private provider of child welfare services have gone to a non-profit organization called Our Kids.  Things haven’t gone well.  The linked-to article cites the organization’s “record of poor service and rocky relationships with subcontractors, detailed in an examination conducted by DCF in 2017.”  That, combined with the recent suicides of two youths, apparently in Our Kids’ foster care, set officials seeking alternatives.

They didn’t have far to look.  Enter Citrus Health that was first chosen to replace Our Kids last summer, only to have the decision derailed by serious allegations of conflicts of interest.  Some eight months later, Citrus was chosen again, having presumably jettisoned its conflicts.  That process seems to suggest that, whoever makes the decision about awarding the contract to provide services to abused and neglected kids had simply decided on Citrus regardless.

Why Citrus Health?  Good question.  That’s because it has no experience providing foster care or in children’s welfare generally.  Due to its loss of the state contract, Our Kids is shutting up shop.  Apparently, that contract was its life blood, so it’s getting out of the child welfare business altogether, albeit involuntarily.

It’s easy to see why Our Kids fought so hard to retain its contract with Miami-Dade and Monroe counties.

At stake was a five-year, half-billion-dollar deal with the Florida Department of Children and Families to administer foster-care services for 3,000 children in need.  

Wait, say what?  Half a billion dollars for just 3,000 kids?  That’s a whopping $167,000 per child over five years or $33,400 per child per year.  If they pay foster parents about $650 per child per month, that leaves $25,600 per child to do what with?  I understand that caseworkers, supervisors, etc. cost money, but from here, that looks like a very hefty administrative cost.  Privatization is supposed to do the same job the state does only better and cheaper.  $33,400 per child per year doesn’t look cheap to me.

But if Our Kids did a poor job, perhaps Citrus Health can do better despite its entire lack of experience in the field. Perhaps not.

Citrus, meanwhile, is new to the world of foster care but has a long history of negligence at its mental-health facilities. In recent years, the nonprofit has faced allegations of sexual assault, as well as accusations of physically abusing teens by using restraints and injecting them with sedatives against their will.

That’s not what I’d call a promising prognosis.  The fact is made all the clearer since, of the 162 employees laid off by Our Kids, 144 of them are hiring on with Citrus.  The good news is that, unlike everyone else at Citrus, they have experience in child welfare cases.  The bad news is that their performance on the job at Our Kids (a) looks to have been deficient and (b) possibly lost the company its contract with Miami-Dade and Monroe counties.

From here it looks like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.  Texas child welfare officials, beware.

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