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New federal law could impact Florida foster care system

Posted at 7:18 PM, Aug 01, 2018
and last updated 2018-08-02 09:00:30-04

The foster care system in Florida is taking another hit.

The opioid crisis is already increasing the number of kids being pulled from their homes.

Now, a new federal law will present a new strain on the group homes helping these children.

The Family First Prevention Services Act will divert more money away from group homes -- and focus funding on preventing children from being removed from the home in the first place.

But with less money, group homes will have a tougher time providing the vital care children need.

"It's a really difficult thing," said Jeffrey Gordon, a foster parent to 11 kids over the past eight years.

Gordon often works with ChildNet -- the foster care agency in Palm Beach and Broward counties -- and said he's been watching the perfect storm brewing over the past year.

"So you have a combination of many more children going into foster care as a result of the opioid crisis, you have a situation where you don't have enough foster homes," he said.

And now, there's the new federal law this fall. Funding will be pulled from group homes and focused more on in-home counseling and parenting classes for famlies at risk of having children removed.

"The difficulty nowadays is that there is a need for foster parents. and there aren't enough foster parents. as a result of that, more children are going into the group homes," said Gordon.

But with the opioid crisis pulling more children from homes this year in Palm Beach County, sometimes group homes are the only option due to the lack of foster parents.

"That's an issue of safety, the children are gonna be removed. there's no question," said Gordon.

Matthew Ladika, the CEO of HomeSafe -- which operates five group homes for youth in Palm Beach County  -- said they work they do is expensive.

It costs millions per year for 24/7 care for children of all ages, including teenagers who age out of the foster care system.

"The funding that we get from the government covers the basics and we don't believe that the basics are good enough for the kids. I want the absolute best for these kids," he said.

One of their homes could be effected by the new law.

"We will continue to monitor to see when it's implemented and make any necessary changes," said Ladika.

HomeSafe relies on fundraisers and donations to make up the difference in what the government can't provide.

"We are contracted through government dollars, about $7.6 million. So that leaves about $2 million that we have to fundraise," said Ladika.

For now, Gordon says the one thing left to do is to recruit more foster parents.

"It's really unfortunate that these children who are the victims -- who have done nothing wrong -- they are now thrown into this situation where it's not good. It's gonna be even more difficult for them," he said.

States do have the option to opt out of the law for up to two years but Florida has yet to make that decision.