The Family First Prevention Act

The Family First Prevention Act has become law. This is the most profound change to child welfare finance since 1980. In many ways, it is good news. In other ways, states (including Florida) have decisions to make.

The Family First Prevention Act intends to do some important things for children and families. One main provision will provide more support for parents. Support for mental health, substance abuse and in-home parenting programs. Parents who need certain supports to prevent their child from being removed, will now have that support. Before this bill became law, prevention was not an option under the original funding provisions. Before it became law, the original funding provision would kick in after a child was placed in foster care (as long as their biological parents met income thresholds).

For the past several years, some states opted for flexible funds (known as, Title IV-E waivers) which gave states (including Florida) the opportunity to implement programs to help families with a myriad of issues. The waiver truly created an umbrella of prevention services, and it appeared that the workforce became more empowered because there were finally options for families. Unfortunately, those waivers are ending. Flexible spending for child welfare will end under the waiver program in 2019. There is little chance that the waivers will be extended. This reality was a tough one for our state. Being privatized, our system works differently than any other system in America. The waivers enhanced our service array.

Without the waiver, the Family First Prevention Act could be beneficial for our state. Though, there are still many decisions that need to be made regarding congregate (group) care. Essentially, the Family First Act will discourage the use of group care for children. Group care is defined as: any care facility that houses six or more children is considered a group home. I don’t think you would find many people who prefer it or believe it’s the best option for children; though, it is important to be realistic about the high number of kids in care and the limited amount of foster homes.

The new law also requires that the prevention services that are covered under the reform bill reach a certain standard of effectiveness as outlined by the California Clearing House. The standards of care that we provide our families should be high so there’s no argument from me. Though, I know that this requirement could be overwhelming to many agencies who do not have funding for evaluation. Our Institute is already preparing for evaluation partnerships. We want to work with agencies throughout Florida who are working hard for families but may not have scientific rigor behind their programming.

This new law is controversial for many states who rely on group care as an option for foster kids. Will this law finally do away with group homes? Will the prevention investment deter kids from foster care, so group homes are unnecessary? Will child welfare systems work harder to find quality foster families if they can’t default to a group home? With time we will have answers to these questions.

In sum, there are varying opinions about the Family First Prevention Act.. but there is one belief that should not be controversial. There should be effective prevention services for parents who want and need help to better care for their children so that they do not end up in foster care. I believe that. My colleagues believe it. And I think Congress voted for this bill because they believe it too.



April 26-27, 2018 Child Abuse Prevention Symposium: Register Today!

One Year in Tallahassee

blog year

Approximately one year ago, I moved to Tallahassee to lead the Florida Institute for Child Welfare (Hereafter called The Institute).  The Institute is located on the main campus of Florida State University (Go Noles!). Not only will this blog reflect on this past year, I think it will also help my friends and family who have no idea what I do. (hehe)

Last year was literally a whirlwind! I spent my first 100 days on the job, traveling around the state. Let me provide a little background on the Institute. It was created in sweeping child welfare legislation in 2014 (Senate Bill 1666). The Institute’s foremost responsibility is providing research-informed recommendations to Florida’s legislative policymakers. Our system for child welfare oversight is the Department of Children and Families (DCF), and our Institute is tasked with providing resources and advisement to DCF on workforce matters, service array, and implementation of the practice model. Another important element to the Institute is the statewide affiliates. Which takes me back to my first 100 days in my new role. I traveled around the state to 1) re-introduce the Institute as the new leader, and 2) engage the affiliates and cultivate the statewide relationships. Our affiliate network is comprised of faculty members (mostly), but also some community leaders who are research inclined. We have created a faculty affiliate directory which describes the vast array of Institute affiliate expertise.  Our affiliates work at universities, from South Florida to Pensacola. Our Institute has truly mobilized child welfare experts from each coast of Florida.

As I traveled to universities to meet with affiliates, I also met with DCF leadership and Community Based Care agency leaders. During those meetings, I asked each person what was the most pressing child welfare issue that challenged their workforce. With that info, I set out to build a research agenda for the Institute. It has always been important to me, as a researcher, to facilitate research that is relevant, accurate and ethical. Taking time to carefully craft research projects was the best route for improving the lives of children and families.

I tried to wrap my mind around my new role as each day passed. Hearing the challenges that plagued the system was taxing on my emotions. I felt overwhelmed. Then I had to realize at the end of each meeting, that it would take time and strategy to truly make a difference. This would not be fixed over night.

Florida’s Legislative Session began in March of last year and I attended the Children and Families Subcommittee meetings so that I was informed of policy changes and possible funding implications.

After the 100 days of travel and Legislative Session, I was gearing up for a summer filled with professional conferences where I was presenting on the priorities of the Institute. At the same time, I had to approve a budget for next fiscal year and begin writing our annual report. Each year, I am responsible for writing a report of the Institute activities and policy recommendations and this report is submitted to the Governor.

After I submitted the annual report, I began working on several projects for the Department and started the process of hiring two research assistants. All of a sudden, I was glaring at the end of the year and I was panicked. Deadlines were looming and I had quite a few projects that were due in December.

At this point, I was feeling exhausted! So, I decided to…take a vacation! I flew to (Dubai/Thailand!) in November, and when I returned I worked diligently to finish the year strong.

I had a great holiday and after a moderately-severe case of Influenza…I returned to work in this new year with excitement. I have already started setting goals for the Institute and thinking strategically as a leader. Over the past few weeks, I have been reflecting on my first year. If I could sum it up with one word, it would be: Thoughtful.

I spent my first year executing my job in the most thoughtful way that I could. I believe I was successful. I believe I am meant to lead the Institute, at this time. I believe we can help improve Florida’s child welfare system. And, as the leader, it is my goal to equip the Institute to reach even further than Florida.

Year 2, Let’s go!



Transformational Leadership


I had my first leadership position at age 11. After being an avid Sunday school goer since I was quite young, my Pastor appointed me Secretary of our small Sunday School class. What does the secretary do? Every week, I was responsible for taking notes/minutes accurately and reporting them articulately to members. I had so much pride! People were congratulatory and very proud of me as well. And people listened to me when I spoke and provided me with information when I asked. I think it was because I was the appointed Secretary.

When I was 14, I took another leadership position. I was voted in as President of the L.A Kids (Lake Alfred Kids). This group was founded by a member of our neighborhood who felt compelled to create a safe and productive club for the children in our community. When I became President, I felt proud and people listened to me. They did what I told them. They cleaned up after our meetings and stopped horse playing when I chastised them. I think it was because I was voted in as President.

Both positions brought a certain level of adherence.

Starting quite young, I was exposed to leadership positions. It was not until recently that I knew definitively that leadership had very little to do with a position. Two years ago, I read the book “The Five Levels of Leadership” written by John Maxwell. It really impacted my perspective. I have been in numerous leadership roles, but had I actually become the type of leader that I truly want to be? Perhaps not yet. And I know that these types of substantive professional developments take time and strategy.

John Maxwell discusses leadership by levels. 

Level 1: Position-Rights; people follow because they have to. [ME!]

Level 2: Permission-Relationships; people follow you because they want to.

Level 3: Production-Results; people follow because of what you have done for organization.

Level 4: People Development-Reproduction; people follow because of what you have done for them.

Level 5: Pinnacle-Respect; people follow b/c of who you are what you represent.


A year ago, I was appointed Executive Director of The Florida Institute for Child Welfare and naturally, I committed to not looking at my leadership in a monolithic manner. I started by writing the vision for my leadership. I asked myself, What kind of leader do you want to be?” Since I’m technically a millennial I do use the internet for almost everything, so I googled some guidance on how to start formatting my Vision Statement. I found a few helpful sites. As an undergraduate, I took a leadership course and learned about various kinds of leadership. Transformational leadership was the most impactful to me.

It is defined as:

“…a style where a leader works with subordinates to identify needed change, creating a vision to guide the change through inspiration, and executing the change in tandem with committed members of a group.”

I decided to start my vision by having three descriptors that would describe my pursuit of transformational leadership.

  1. Service
  2. Influence
  3. Affirmation

Essentially, I desire to be a leader who serves the broader community, influences child welfare policy and practice, and affirms her team as they continue to develop. Once I had my descriptors, I started to write my vision for my leadership.

My vision included immediate objectives, short-term objectives, long-term objectives, sustainability goals and an overall vision for the direction of my work.

I have one year down. And I am extremely grateful that I no longer see leadership from the frame of a position. Having a leadership position does not make you a leader. Just stop and think about a former boss you had who was a terrible leader/manager. See? It’s pretty common. Positions are just that…labels, titles, positions. 

It is my professional goal to become a transformational leader who ignites organizational and systems-level change in the pursuit of child safety and social justice. I want the people who work with me to be empowered, respected, autonomous, yet accountable.

I’m up for the leadership challenge. Are you?

If you are in a leadership role or even desire to be, I highly recommend that you start TODAY deciding what type of leader that you want to be. Do not wait for the position. Do not wait for the interview.

Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither were great leaders.