Bringing Services and Stability to Florida’s Kids

Good news: A federal judge recently gave final approval to a settlement agreement that promises dramatic improvements for children in Southern Florida’s foster care system. This will bring important changes for thousands of young people being harmed by the very system responsible for protecting and supporting them.

The Florida case is a monumental victory for kids, and also a great illustration of what makes Children’s Rights so effective. In little over 18 months our lawsuit brought people together to spark lasting change for kids.

When we get information that a state is operating in ways that are hurting kids, we work with local child advocates to thoroughly investigate. When official reports, hearings and blue ribbon commissions all fail to force governments to fix broken systems, suing the state can be the last best hope for these children.

In Florida, after years of neglect, there is an extreme lack of housing for kids in the foster care system. When we filed our law suit, in 2018, even infants were being held in emergency shelters.

Kids are moved 40, 50, 70 or more times from place to place, not knowing where they will sleep the next night. They are locked in psychiatric facilities. They are denied mental health care services they desperately need for the trauma they have experienced. Without care, they deteriorate psychologically and emotionally. Their brain development is interrupted, leading to irreparable damage. They cannot form trusting, loving relationships. This can lead older kids to run away, become homeless, and be lured into sex trafficking. It’s a recipe for a ruined life.

One of the plaintiffs in the Florida law suit is Sienna, a 16-year-old who has been in and out of foster care since she was three. After being the victim of sex trafficking she wound up in a foster home only to be sexually assaulted by the foster father. Over the last 3 years, the state has not placed Sienna in a setting that can address her psychological needs. Her education is as much of an afterthought as her emotional well-being. At one point the agency charged with keeping her safe actually placed this fragile girl in a homeless shelter.

Sienna’s story is extreme but not unique. Over half a million children in the US are separated from their families and live in the care of state governments that are failing to protect them and keep them safe.

In the months to come, we will be working closely with state officials and court monitors to hold Florida accountable for meeting specific, enforceable benchmarks to ensure kids have safe and stable housing, no longer shuttle night-to-night through random placements and get the mental health care services they deserve.

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