The new fiscal year also brought new challenges beyond our immediate control. Across Florida, many children and families continued to face serious problems like economic hardship, mental health issues, substance abuse, domestic violence, and human trafficking. Simultaneously, Child Protective Investigators and CBC Lead Agencies sought to understand how to best serve these families in the context of DCF’s updated practice model.
The “perfect storm” of practice change combined with the severity of statewide social problems led to the most dramatic increase in child removals Circuit 5 has ever experienced. As 2015-16 came to a close, the number of children in out-of-home care had climbed by more than 50%. Kids Central was now serving over 1,600 children in foster care every day.
However, grounded in our core values and guided by our longterm vision to be an industry leader, Kids Central continued to execute its strategy: continuously improve the quality of care for our families. Our clear focus on this strategy and the dedication of our employees were crucial to our success despite the volatile and challenging circumstances we faced. Kids Central is truly blessed with one of the most devoted and passionate workforces I have ever seen.
Through it all, the foster, adoptive and kinship parents who care for the most vulnerable of children 24 hours a day, seven days a week continue to be our unsung heroes. This year, we recruited and licensed 69 new foster homes, which included 139 licensed beds for foster youth. Our Kinship Care program served 416 relative caregivers and 539 children through advocacy and case management services. And 153 youth were adopted into forever families.
I am always amazed by the real and lasting difference Kids Central helps create for children and families, and I eagerly anticipate seeing our team continue to fulfill its mission of Building Better Lives amid the challenges and triumphs each new year brings.