(800) 765-3797  fsyr@youthranches.org

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill are beginning to realize that states are in a difficult position, with children’s lives at risk if they rush to comply with Family First legislation without adequate plans in place.

By Bill Frye

Published July 5, 2019

This column first appeared as a special to the Tampa Bay Times.

The need for foster parents in Florida is critical. In many regions of the state, there is a shortage of beds and suitable placement options for children entering the foster care system. The Family First Prevention Services Act — which Congress passed last year as part of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 — seeks to change foster care across the nation by investing more funds in treatment and prevention services that are aimed at keeping families together and preventing children from entering the system.

Part of this reform includes limiting states from placing children in residential group homes. Proponents argue that foster homes are better for children than group homes, and child welfare staff should only use group homes as a short-term last resort. Under Family First, states risk losing federal funds if they place children in residential group settings — even family-style models — for longer than two weeks.

With an approaching deadline of Sept. 30 to comply with the new legislation, many states have been trying to reform their systems and limit their use of group homes. However, looking at other states trying to comply with these reforms provides an alarming glimpse into what could happen here in Florida, with fewer options for foster children than we have today. There are stories, in states like Illinois, of children being housed in hotels or, in some cases, locked psychiatric facilities without clinical needs because caseworkers have nowhere else to put them. Even before this legislation, Florida has struggled with finding suitable places to put children. The Department of Children and Families settled a lawsuit earlier this year in South Florida (H.G. vs. Carroll) over the state’s failure to provide enough foster home beds.

Nearly 40 percent of Florida’s child welfare budget comes from the federal government under Title IV-E funds. It’s understandable that state officials are concerned about potentially losing this significant source of funding. However, as we’re starting to see in other states, most states are not ready to meet the standards of the Family First Prevention Services Act without significant consequences to their foster care systems. Trying to do so means fewer options for children entering a foster care system that is already struggling to keep up. It could also result in leaving children in dangerous situations because federal funds incentivize keeping families together.

Fortunately, lawmakers on Capitol Hill are beginning to realize that states are in a difficult position, with children’s lives at risk if they rush to comply with this legislation without adequate plans in place. The State Flexibility for Family First Transitions Act (S 107), introduced earlier this year by Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla, and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., would provide states with a two-year extension, allowing them to continue receiving Title IV-E funds while they figure out how to comply with Family First and how residential group homes fit into the picture before simply eliminating them as part of the continuum of care.

The goals of Family First include keeping children from entering foster care while, at the same time, reducing the use of group homes. However, it’s important to recognize that high-quality, family-style residential group homes across the country have played a role in keeping kids out of foster care for many years. Residential group homes are also designed to keep siblings together instead of splitting them up, which often occurs in the foster system. In many cases, parents or guardians voluntarily bring their child to a family style group home like the Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranches. Cottage parents and staff work with the young man or woman to get things back on track — which includes improving their grades, changing their behaviors, developing a healthy self-esteem and more. When a child is able to return home and the relationship with their family is restored, it’s a success story that we hope to see repeated again and again.

The State Flexibility for Family First Transitions Act is gaining attention, with Florida Reps. Greg Steube, a Republican, and Kathy Castor, a Democrat, recently introducing a companion bill the House, HR 3116. Florida Republican Reps. Matt Gaetz, Gus Bilirakis and Neal Dunn have recently signed on as co-sponsors. We hope other members of Congress, including other members of our Florida legislative delegation, will take notice and recognize that states need more time to make these changes to their foster care systems without risking children’s lives.

Bill Frye is the president of the Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranches, a residential group care program with four campuses for boys and girls. The Youth Ranches has operated in Florida since 1957.

The Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranches has been selected by SE Grocers to participate in the Giving Tag Program. When you purchase a Community Bag at any BI-LO, Harvey’s, Winn Dixie or Fresco y Más store, you can use the Giving Tag attached to the bag to direct a $1 donation to the Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranches.

This is a great way to support the environment and fund raise for our cause all year long. The cost of the Community Bag with the Giving Tag is $2.50. There are two designs to choose from.

After purchasing your bag follow the instructions on the Giving Tag to direct a $1 donation to the Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranches.

Please help us maximize this opportunity by sharing this information with your family and friends on social media!

For more information about this program, please contact Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranches Director of Development Wayne Witczak at 1-800-765-3797 or email wwitczak@youthranches.org.

Say Hello to our Board of Directors

We are pleased to announce our 2019 board of directors, led by Charlotte County Sheriff Bill Prummell serving as chair. This year’s board includes seven sheriffs and other community leaders throughout Florida.

“Our board of directors plays a big role in the mission and vision of the Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranches,” said Youth Ranches President Bill Frye. “We are fortunate to have such a talented group of board members to help provide strategic direction and guide the work we do every day with the boys and girls in our programs.”

Along with Sheriff Prummell serving as the new board chair, the 15-member board includes a new treasurer, Vicky Talmadge, and new board members Mark Becker, Tucker Lemley and Levy County Sheriff Bobby McCallum. The board meets four times a year at various Youth Ranches campuses around the state.

The 2019 board of directors includes:

Charlotte County Sheriff Bill Prummell – Chair
Nassau County Sheriff Bill Leeper - Immediate Past Chair
Dan Hager – Vice Chair
Vicky Talmadge – Treasurer
Dr. Patrick Coggins – Secretary
Bay County Sheriff Tommy Ford – Board Member
Levy County Sheriff Bobby McCallum – Board Member
Gilchrist County Sheriff Bobby Schultz – Board Member
Flagler County Sheriff Rick Staly – Board Member
Manatee County Sheriff Rick Wells – Board Member
Mark Becker – Board Member
Tucker Lemley – Board Member
Rose Mary Treadway Oelrich – Board Member
G.J. Orgeron – Board Member
Dr. Jim Sewell – Board Member

An important article about the future of child welfare in Florida by Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranches President Bill Frye was published in the Tampa Bay Times on February, 1, 2019. You can read the column here.

“We’ve never had a real Christmas,” Aiden said, as he shook a box neatly wrapped with colorful paper, trying to figure out what gift was hidden inside.

He wasn’t saying it to be dramatic or to try to get the chance to open his gifts early. It was just a quiet comment to his sister, Alexis.

The truth is, for the fifth-grader and his older sister, their lives before the Youth Ranches had been anything but consistent and being able to celebrate Christmas each year wasn’t a given.

“My favorite part of Christmas is the food,” Alexis said with a smile as she carefully read the instructions to assemble an artificial pre-lit tree. “This is the first time I have ever put together a Christmas tree,” she said, enjoying the tedious work of bending the branches into a full and iconic tree shape.

Aiden and Alexis are like a lot of children across the state of Florida. Simple joys like unwrapping Christmas gifts or decorating a Christmas tree aren’t guaranteed to them. For so many underprivileged and needy boys and girls across the state, their next meal isn’t guaranteed, and celebrating the holidays isn’t something they know they are missing out on.

Our sibling program has allowed the pair to stay not only at the same campus, but in the same cottage as well. However, the transition from being bounced around to coming to the stability of the Youth Ranches hasn’t been completely easy. There have been some outbursts, a few tears and a learning curve to understand what is expected of them, but the pair has been excelling. Now, with no hesitation, they know the Youth Ranch as their home.

Alexis, who struggled to find her niche in town school, is thriving with a little more individualized attention at the on-campus Cooke School and now looks forward to her walk to school each morning. Aiden, like a lot of boys, doesn’t love school, but he is incredibly bright and his favorite subjects are math and science.

School is a top priority at the Youth Ranches, but if Aiden is honest, sometimes his main focus is his little league football team, the Gators. Both he and his sister know they finally have the opportunity for a stable life with people who truly care about them, their well-being and their future.

Many children like Aiden and Alexis come from home lives they didn’t choose. It wasn’t their choice to have no other options than to call the Boys Ranch home, but because of you, they never want to leave.

“I want to stay here!” Alexis said passionately. “I want to graduate high school and go to college.”

Aiden and Alexis got to have their first real Christmas at the Boys Ranch. There was a tree, an amazing meal, a banquet and even presents. Best of all, they got to celebrate with cottage parents who care about them and dozens of new Rancher brothers and sisters.

It is because of people like you that we can provide a loving home to young men and women like Aiden and Alexis. It is because of your commitment to the Youth Ranches that we have a flourishing sibling program and can keep families together under one roof and give them hope for
the future.