Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability
Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability

Department of Children and Families

Child Welfare

What is the purpose of the program?

The department's child welfare program works in partnership with six regions, 17 community-based care lead agencies and seven sheriff's offices to provide child protective investigations, prevention services, and case management services in their local communities for children who are at risk of or have been abused, neglected, or abandoned.

What steps are involved in protecting children?

There are three major functions performed by the program, as described below.  The single entry point to child welfare services in Florida is the Florida Abuse Hotline. The hotline receives all child maltreatment allegations. Following reported child maltreatment, the department
  • conducts Investigations of alleged maltreatment reports for the purpose of determining the necessity for providing initial intake services and crisis intervention to maintain the child safely in his/her own home, or to protect the safety of the child through emergency removal and out-of-home placement with relatives or in licensed care;
  • coordinates In-Home Services designed to keep children safe with their own families whenever possible to do so. In-home services are intended to support families with strengthening caregiver protective capacities while at the same time implementing in-home, agency directed and managed safety plans; and
  • coordinates Out-of-Home Placement Services for children who cannot remain safely at homes and need temporary care while services are provided to reunite the family or achieve some other permanency option. Types of out-of-home placements include relative care or guardianship as well as licensed foster homes and residential group facilities.

Who does the program serve?

The program serves children and families involved with the child welfare system as a result of reports of abuse, neglect, and abandonment.

What types of services are provided by the program?

The Department contracts for the delivery of child welfare services through community-based care (CBC). CBCs deliver foster care and related services, including family preservation, prevention and diversion, dependency casework, out-of-home care, emergency shelter, independent living services, and adoption. Many CBCs contract with subcontractors for case management and direct care services to children and their families. This system allows local agencies to engage community partners in designing and modifying their local system of care that maximizes resources to meet local needs.  
In-Home Protective Services permit the child to remain in the family setting with safety plan services in place. Safety plan services include, but are not limited to, supervision and monitoring, stress reduction, behavior modification, crisis management, and parenting assistance.
Out-of-Home Care is provided to children who are determined to be unsafe at home and need temporary care while services are provided to reunite the family or achieve some other permanency option, including guardianship or placement with relatives, foster homes, and residential group facilities. The most appropriate available out-of-home placement is chosen after analyzing the child's age, sex, sibling status, special physical, educational, emotional and developmental needs, alleged type of abuse, neglect or abandonment, community ties, and school placement.
Adoption occurs when the court determines that it is not in a child's best interest to be reunited with their parents. Services provided through the program include mental health counseling to prepare a child for adoption, legal services to sever parental rights in order for a child to be legally free for adoption, supervision of adoptive placements, adoption subsidies, and post-adoption services such as counseling.
Services for Young Adults are available for young adults 18 to 23 years of age who were residing in licensed foster care when they become 18 years of age. There are four components to the program.

  • Extended Foster Care is available to young adults until 21 years of age (or 22 years of age with a documented disability). Youth who would previously age-out of licensed care at age 18 can opt to stay in while finishing school or gaining work skills and experience.  Participants must live with a licensed foster parent, in a licensed group home, in a transitional living program, or in a shared living arrangement.
  • Postsecondary Education Services and Support (PESS) provides a monetary stipend to young adults formerly in foster care to attend post-secondary or vocation school until age 23. PESS is available to young adults regardless of whether they enroll in Extended Foster Care.
  • Aftercare Services provides temporary services, including financial assistance, for young adults not participating in the extended foster care or PESS programs. Assistance may include mentoring, tutoring, jobs and career skills training, and mental health or substance abuse services.
  • Fostering Success provides young adults aged 18-24 who have former experience in the foster care system, an opportunity to gain professional life skills and employment readiness training in a year-long, part-time, paid OPS position within one of six participating state agencies. The program offers professional and personal development trainings, outside workshops, career specific certifications, shadow and networking opportunities, teambuilding events, and ultimately, the work experience to enable young adults to build the fundamental abilities to achieve economic self-sufficiency and professional success.  

How well does the child welfare system serve children?

In Fiscal Year 2019-20, there were 22,553 children served in out-of-home care and 10,645 who remained in their homes and received in-home services. For children in out-of-home care during Fiscal Year 2019-20, the department reported that 37.2% of children were reunified with their families within 12 months of removal from their homes, below the department's standard of 65%. For the same period, the department reported that 10% of children reunified were removed within 12 months of that reunification, above the department's standard of 9.9%. The department also reported that 51% of children had their adoptions finalized within 24 months of being removed from their homes, above the department's standard of 40%.

How are these activities funded?

The child welfare program is funded as part of the Family Safety Program budget entity through a combination of federal and state funds.
Fiscal Year: 2022-23
Fund Dollars Positions


The 2021 Legislature made several changes to child welfare laws. 

  • Chapter 2021-169, Laws of Florida, creates a number of changes for the child welfare system. Changes for children in out of home care include the development of a FACE sheet for each dependency case file, new factors considered when determining a placement for a child, and additional requirements for multidisciplinary teams, transition planning, placement of siblings, post disposition placement changes, and the reinstatement of parental rights. Changes that impact young adults who have aged out of care include the creation of the Office of Continuing Care within the department to help young adults who have aged out of the child welfare system and expanding the eligibility of the Keys to Independence Program to young adults enrolled in Postsecondary Education Supports and Services (PESS).
  • Chapter 2021-170, Laws of Florida, makes a number of changes and clarifies provisions relating to the child welfare system, including to the intake process and reporting requirements, investigations, penalties, and confidentiality of records and reports. Further, the law makes changes to DCF's duties, lead agencies' and managing entities' duties, expands existing programs, creates new programs, and establishes a Commission on Mental Health and Substance Abuse. 

Implementation of the DCF Accountability Act. The 2020 Legislature established an Office of Quality within the Department of Children and Families to measure and monitor the performance of agency programs provided by the department and contracted entities. The department has a standard outcome measure for the 5% of all open DCF investigations, case management cases, and behavioral health treatment plans to be reviewed by the Quality Office. The baseline for this outcome was 0% in Fiscal Year 2019-20. Actions taken by the Quality Office reported as of January 2021 include the following.

  • 2,500 case reviews 
  • 296 cases sent to the field for immediate safety actions
  • 15 new class reported
  • 16 cases resulting in the removal of a child  

Where can I find related OPPAGA reports?

Annual Report on the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children in Florida, 2022, Report 22-05, July 2022
Literature Review of Studies on the Effectiveness of Advocacy Models for Children in Dependency, Report 21-07, December 2021
Annual Report on the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children in Florida, 2021, Report 21-06, July 2021
Annual Report on the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children in Florida, 2020, Report 20-05, July 2020
Placement Options for CSE Victims Have Increased; CSE-Specific Services Remain Limited, Report 19-05, July 2019
Service Model Slowly Adapting for Community CSE Victims; Limited Progress in Less Restrictive Placements for Dependent CSE Victims, Report 18-05, June 2018
DCF and Its Lead Agencies Have Not Resolved Issues Related to Serving Commercially Sexually Exploited Children, Report 17-09, June 2017

Where can I get more information?

Other Reports

A complete list of the Department's Child Welfare reports is on their website.    

States with Approval to Extend Care Provide Independent Living Options for Youth up to Age 21, U.S. Government Accountability Office, GAO-19-411, May 2019

Oversight and Administration of Community-Based Care Lead Agencies and Behavioral Health Managing Entities and Selected Department Administrative Activities, Auditor General Report No. 2019-111, January 2019

The Auditor General reports on department operations are located on its website.
Websites of Interest
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Children's Bureau
Florida Institute for Child Welfare
Florida's Center for the Advancement of Child Welfare Practice
Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago
Child Welfare Information Gateway
Child Welfare League of America
Children's Defense Fund
Performance Information
Performance measures and standards for the department may be found in its Long Range Program Plan and Planning and Performance Measures, which reports the department's performance on external and internal measures for its various programs. The measures allow the user to view performance at both a statewide and geographic region level.

What are the applicable statutes?

Chapters 39 and 63, and ss. 409.145 through 409.176, Florida Statutes.

Whom do I contact for help?

Child Welfare Program, 850-488-8762