Florida lawmakers sign off on child welfare changes

With House sponsor Mel Ponder, R-Destin, saying he would like to see the Department of Children and Families viewed as a “gateway of hope,” lawmakers gave final approval Wednesday to a bill that would make wide-ranging changes in the child-welfare system.

House members voted 117-0 to approve the bill (SB 1326), which also was unanimously approved this week by the Senate. It now will go to Gov. Ron DeSantis.

The bill, in part, seeks to bolster child-protective investigators, including taking steps to “mitigate and prevent the impact of secondary traumatic stress and burnout” among the front-line workers. Also, it calls for developing an expanded “career ladder” for child-protective investigation staff members. The bill, in part, also would establish an Office of Quality in the department to address issues such as performance standards and metrics.

The bill was sponsored in the Senate by incoming Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, and had high-powered support from House Speaker Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, and Florida First Lady Casey DeSantis.

“This is one of those promises we made on opening day (of the legislative session), and it’s great to see it come to fruition,” Oliva said after the bill passed Wednesday.

The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.