State Lawmakers Press For Safe Chidlren Coalition

Todays News

Sarasota County’s Legislative Delegation at an annual local meeting threw unanimous support to the Safe Children Coalition and its efforts for greater state funding.

The nonprofit community care provider delivers welfare services including adoption and foster care, annually delivering services for 5,000 children and families in Sarasota, Manatee and DeSoto counties.

The organization operates with private donations as well as grants through the state. But CEO Brena Slater testified to lawmakers that this region suffers the lowest per capita funding for its work of any community-based care provider of similar services in the state. Meanwhile, the region faces the highest per capita need for the service and the highest caseload. That leads to a backload of cases, which if unaddressed can further grow need while financial resources wane.

Challenges for the organization have also been exacerbated, Slate said, by the COVID-19 pandemic that disproportionately affected families already facing serious health conditions, and a resulting closing of many court functions during the pandemic created bureaucratic hurdles to slow family placements and adoptions.

“How can we be in this position?” said Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota. “It’s very unfortunate the situation that this group is in.”

Gruters motioned for the delegation to draft and co-sign a letter to Department of Children and Families Secretary Shevaun Harris to ask for a reevaluation and adjustment to community-based care model in the state. Lawmakers within the delegation agreed. He also said local lawmakers should reach out to other delegations representing the 12th Judicial Circuit, recruiting Manatee and DeSoto county lawmakers to get involved. That should be pretty simple as almost all Manatee’s lawmakers also serve on Sarasota’s delegation.

The Safe Children Coalition was among 34 non-government organizations awarded time to speak on the agenda, and the only one whose testimony prompted immediate endorsement by the legislative delegation. Gruters said he did not go into the meeting intending to request a letter be drafted, but was struck by Slater’s testimony.

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