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- 2012 - April - 18th -

Advocates: Children fared well in final budget

by Margie Menzel, The News Service of Florida

Advocates for children and youth services were upbeat Tuesday as Gov. Rick Scott signed the budget for the state fiscal year beginning July 1.

The spending plan includes more money for child abuse prevention and maternal health as well as additional money for systemic improvements to the state’s early learning and child welfare systems.

The Guardian ad Litem program, which represents children in the courts, received its entire budget request. Florida KidCare, the federal-state subsidized health insurance program for children, was extended to state workers who make little enough to qualify. A Boys and Girls Clubs gang prevention project, vetoed last year, was funded this time around.

“In a very tight budget year, children fared better than we thought they might at the beginning of the legislative session,” said Roy Miller, president of the Children’s Campaign.

The Department of Children and Families received its request for $9.8 million to raise the base salaries of child protection investigators by $4,000 in the hope of retaining more of them, which department Secretary David Wilkins said is part of his strategy for being more efficient with state dollars.

DCF’s new budget increases the base salary for 828 fully trained investigators from $35,900 to $39,600. It also creates a “career ladder” whereby senior investigators, investigator supervisors and field supervisors see their salaries climb higher.

The governor also signed off on $12.4 million for technological and training improvement to the state abuse hotline.

Ted Granger, president of the United Way of Florida, said it was good news for children and parents that the Early Learning Information System, which has fallen well behind schedule, was funded.

“And that’s huge because right now there’s no central record-keeping database for the school readiness system,” Granger said. “And this will bring us into the 21st century. We’re currently back in the 19th.”

Lack of a data-matching system, such as the one that will now be paid for, was blamed during the session for $40 million in fraud. These were costs incurred when parents on the unemployment rolls also placed their children in early learning programs, although they couldn’t be eligible for both.

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