April 13th – April 17th
2009 Legislative Session
In the 1950’s and 60’s, over 200 young boys were exposed to atrocities beyond belief. According to their
personal stories told in the Sunday edition of the St. Petersburg Times, they were beaten with a three foot long
leather strap with metal embedded and others were raped. Now old men, the former wards of the training
school believe the 31 white unmarked crosses on the grounds suggest that others didn’t make it out alive.
Those that did have had demons chase them their entire lives. Many have been in and out of prison for
offenses ranging from drug possession to murder, experienced one broken marriage after another, and to this
day can’t sleep without a light on. The Times staff writers, Ben Montgomery and Waveney Ann Moore,
conducted more than 100 hours of interviews.
Former residents of the Florida School for Boys (now known as the White House Boys) have carried the abuse
with them for over 50 years. The problems at the institution date back even longer.
Public documents reviewed by the newspaper pegs the first scandal at the Florida School for Boys in 1903,
three years after the school opened. Scandals have continued to rock the institution now known as the Arthur
G. Dozier School for Boys throughout its history. Each time reforms are ordered, steps are taken, and the time
passes and the cycle repeats.
It is outrageous. It is more than a mind can comprehend to think that a program operated by state government
has gotten away with making the same “mistakes” again and again and again.
Somehow it is not as outrageous when it comes to budget numbers. Perhaps we get lost in the enormity of the
actual totals or perhaps the statistics don’t cut our heart the same way a child’s picture and name can.
Regardless, Florida has yet to learn its lesson. In the past several years, the budget for juvenile justice has
been reduced by Florida’s legislature and governor from $780-million to a bit more than $600-million. Each
dollar taken from juvenile justice has been moved to the budget of adult corrections.
It is long past time to restore the money to the children. There can be no real reform without the dollars to invest
in prevention and more timely programs and services run by educated and trained personnel in smaller
community based programs with more intense oversight of their operations.
There is no such plan in the works, however. The House and Senate have approved their respective budgets,
and now it will be up to the conference committees (House and Senate) to iron out the details and decide which
chambers’ cuts will be presented to the Governor. The Senate version, while higher than the House in overall
dollars, is almost $250 million less in Health and Human Services dollars.
Essential services to children are on the chopping block; like child welfare. There is a lesson being ignored here
too. Florida’s child protection services have seen their share of tragedies. In 1989, two-year-old Bradley McGee
died by being plunged into a toilet head first by his step father for soiling his pants. In response, the state
agency reviewed the system and recommended lowering caseloads and increasing worker pay. Nine years
later, six-year-old Kayla McKean was killed when the protective system of care failed. In response, the Kayla
McKean Act is passed. In 2002, Rilya Wilson’s disappearance without report for over 16 months leads to the
same conclusion as in 1989: the system is overburdened and understaffed. There are many more names that
could and should be mentioned. In 2007 alone, Florida had a total of 166 child abuse deaths.
History is being ignored. While Florida has made progress with its child welfare system, these improvements are
being put at risk with one budget slice after another at a time when the state knows it cannot effectively care for
all of the children in need of services.
Guardian ad Litem is facing reductions affecting nearly 6,000 children. Community Based Care is facing the
same fate after being reduced more than $9-million last year. Other dollars for services to abused and
neglected children are being moved from recurring to non-recurring status to use the one-time federal stimulus
money. This means they will be in danger of being removed for good in next year’s budget session. These cuts
not only hit the heart of the child welfare system, but also endanger the state’s Title IV-E waiver, risking loss of
important federal support.
Stark numbers with their many zeroes and commas which make them look adequate can make the human cost
almost seem palatable. But there are other ways to tell the story with numbers: a child in Florida is 1.5 times
less likely to die from injuries if they have health insurance, but over 800,000 Florida children are without it.
Substantive Kidcare bills that could bring down more federal stimulus dollars are not moving in the House and
funding for the program remains stagnant. Nearly 7% of children in Florida fail third grade because they aren’t
prepared for school, but pre-k funding has decreased per student in the past three years, and bills to improve
the quality of the program have not been approved. More than 1 in 4 children living with working parents are
unsupervised in the afternoon, the peak hours for children to be victims of crime, be in or cause a car crash,
smoke, drink or use drugs, and/or engage in sexual activity. Waiting lists for services grow longer as program
locations are reduced in number and hours of availability.
When cuts do not altogether discontinue needed programs, they do harm by reducing the quality of services.
Florida’s kids need more money. They need the dollars to be restored from the budget cuts of the past and
they need the budget cuts of the present to stop.
There is money to be generated in Florida despite the soured economy. Last Legislative Connection we
referenced an article about sales tax loop holes that was published in the Lakeland Ledger. The same article
expresses frustration over the budget re-runs: “In our research, we came across a news article whose headline
read: "Florida Legislature unwilling to revamp tax system." It could have been written this week. But it wasn't. It
was written in 1992. That is how long we have been talking about and studying and cost analyzing Florida's
proliferation of sales tax exemptions.”
It is way past time to protect the health, care and safety of Florida’s children. Florida needs a new revenue
stream for children’s services.
The state has proven time and time again, when it continues to do things the same way it produces the same
bad results. Ask Tallahassee to show some courage and come up with a solution for Florida’s children. If we don’
t then we have learned little from past history and are destined to make the same mistakes again.
The Senate companion of the detention bill (SB 654) was temporarily postponed by the Senate Criminal Justice
Committee after a valiant effort by child advocates and pointed questions from Senators Siplin and Wilson. The
Senators asked the Department of Juvenile Justice for their view on the bill and were told that DJJ did not take
positions on bills the Department did not file. The bill includes provisions that would increase the use of
detention and lengths of stay and giving judges the final say in juvenile placement decisions. While that may not
sound like a bad decision on the surface, it will lead to deeper end placements, taking the system in the
opposite direction of the reform effort.
The Senate version of the Juvenile Justice Reform Bill with provisions carrying no fiscal impact (SB 2128)
continues to move through the process without riders. We wish we could say the same about the House
companion (HB 1211) but we can’t. Two highly controversial amendments remain part of it. One gives judges
the final say in placement, same as the detention bill. Worse, the second removes the child’s right to appeal a
sentence to a commitment program that is inconsistent with DJJ’s recommendation. In an email from Carlos
Martinez, the Miami-Dade Public Defender, he advised that “…although the amendment added does not use or
strike the word “appeal”, it effectively eliminates the right …” Martinez goes on to comment that “it’s dangerous
not to have checks and balances.”
The Children’s Campaign and others have notified the Governor’s Office with our concern. We want the
Governor to intervene and ask for the two provisions to be removed in the House, allowing a clean version of
the reform measure to come forward. Unfortunately, in its current House form, the bill should and will be
KidCare’s substantive bill (SB 918) is still moving in the Senate but the House version (HB 1329) has yet to be
heard. Sen. Wilson (D-Miami-Dade) and Rep. Clarke-Reed (D-Pompano Beach) and Rep. Rogers’ (D-
Lauderhill) bills which would commission an OPPAGA report on the outreach efforts of the KidCare program are
moving through the process on both sides of the Legislature.
For other bills, continue reading:
Promise 1 (child health, including; maternal health, KidCare, mental health, etc.)
Promise 2 (child protection, including; foster care, adoption, independent living, etc.)
Promise 3 (early learning and care, including; pre-k, child care, etc.)
Promise 4 (after school, including before and after school programs, summer school, etc.)
Promise 5 (juvenile justice, including juvenile justice reform, girls issues, minority overrepresentation, etc.)
Legislative Connection was brought to you by:
Amanda Ostrander, Webmaster
Roy Miller, President
Children’s Campaign, Inc.
Roy Miller, President
Children’s Campaign, Inc.