As state legislators and Gov. Rick Scott continue to block federal health care reform from entering Florida, the state is facing a child health crisis whose remedy could lie in the very policy they are determined to stop.
In the 2010-2011 budget, a state program aimed at reducing instances of child abuse and neglect in the state of Florida took a big hit. Lawmakers slashed more than $10 million from a voluntary home visitation program called Healthy Families Florida.
Healthy Families Florida is a “statewide system of voluntary, community-based home visitation services that strengthen families, promote positive parent-child relationships and optimize the health and development of children.” These programs “provide free home visiting services to parents expecting a baby and parents of newborns.”
Healthy Families “is nationally accredited by Prevent Child Abuse America/Healthy Families America,” according to the program’s website.
According to information given to The Florida Independent by Lonnie Parizek of The Ounce of Prevention Fund of Florida, the 43 percent cut in funds means at least 3,000 fewer families served, and at least 5,000 fewer children who will be helped.
At the end of 2010, an annual study (.pdf) that looks into preventable child deaths in the state was commissioned by the Florida government. The report analyzed 192 “verified child abuse and neglect deaths” and came up with three key recommendations. One of three recommendations made by the State Child Abuse Death Review Committee: return the Healthy Families Florida budget to 2009 levels.
The state-commissioned committee wrote that doing so would “reinstate services to 3,500 high risk families and their 5,800 children who live in the 12 counties where services were eliminated and in the remaining 55 counties that experienced significant cuts.”
The committee said that, considering the state’s economic troubles, “it is even more critical that the Governor and Legislature prioritize funding for programs and services that show consistent positive results and yield the greatest possible return for the recovery and future economic prosperity of Florida and its citizens.”
“Florida’s taxpayers pay an estimated $64,377 a year to care for an abused or neglected child,” the study explains, “while Healthy Families Florida prevents the costs of child abuse and neglect for only $1,671 a year per child, saving taxpayers millions of dollars. … A rigorous five-year independent study and follow up study shows that Healthy Families prevents child abuse and neglect, keeping families together and children out of the child welfare system — 98 percent of the children served by Healthy Families are abuse free.”
During this spring’s legislative session, Florida lawmakers kept the program’s budget at the decreased amount, despite the report’s recommendation.
In addition to providing inadequate funds for the Health Families program, policymakers are standing in the way of federal money that could fill in the gaps. State legislators — and Scott — have continued to block such funds from making their way to the state.
According to child advocate Linda Merrell, of the Florida Child Healthcare Coalition, the state has already lost out on millions that could have gone to protect Florida’s children.
According to Merrell, Florida last year lost out on millions of dollars allocated to the state for home visit programs. This year, Scott lawmakers turned down another $3.4 million in funds for home visits.
In total, Merrell says, the state has lost out on about $8.2 million for these home visitation programs.
Merrell also points out that, as a result, the state also lost leverage in competing with other states for even more grants. She says the total possible money that Florida could have received from the federal government so far adds up to about $52 million.
The reasoning behind blocking the funds is because the money comes from the Affordable Care Act of 2010. Scott campaigned against health care reform and has made a political point out of not implementing it in Florida.
“It is shameful and irresponsible that we walked away from this money,” Merrell says. “Legislators have prioritized their own personal agendas … and it’s our loss.”
Gov. Scott’s office has informed us that the governor in fact approved acceptance of the home visitation funds, but that “the legislature did not pick up the budget request”:
We apologize for the error.