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DCF moves to permanently end involvement in care of unaccompanied migrant children in Florida

DCF will stop issuing or renewing shelters licenses unless feds/state agreement is reached
Posted at 11:18 AM, Feb 11, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-11 11:58:11-05

Florida’s child welfare agency officially announced it is ending its participation in a federal program that shelters migrant children who enter the U.S. without their parents.

In a press release, Florida’s Department of Children and Families (DCF) stated it will no longer issue or renew the licenses of shelters or providers in Florida that care for unaccompanied migrant children as part of a federally funded program. In the release, DCF stated it would prohibit issuing these licenses unless there is a cooperative agreement between Florida and the federal government.

“Through its policies, the Federal Government has made a decision to encourage the mass smuggling of minors to the southern border without their parents,” stated DCF Secretary Shevaun Harris. “No government that claimed to care for children would ever tolerate this. The Federal Government’s careless policies have led to this unsafe situation, and Florida will no longer be complicit in it. By ending the State’s involvement with the program, the proposed rule will finally force the Federal Government to take full responsibility for the care and treatment of the UAC population,” Harris stated.

The announcement follows months of our original reporting that discovered DCF had stopped renewing the licenses of shelters for unaccompanied minors after Governor DeSantis signed an executive order back in September. That order directed state agencies, including DCF, to stop assisting the federal government in bringing illegal immigrants into the state. Under federal law, unaccompanied children who enter the U.S. seeking asylum are considered a legal entry. Once children enter the U.S., the federal government is obligated by law to provide temporary care to these children before they are reunited with relatives or vetted sponsors here.

There are 16 providers in Florida who are contracted by the federal government to care for these children under the federal program.

Earlier this week, we shared how Bethany Christian Services in Orlando which provides foster care to unaccompanied children for the federal government, has been stuck in a state of limbo since the organization’s foster families couldn’t get their state licenses renewed because of the Governor’s order.

Last month, those licenses were renewed but DCF is still not letting them accept new kids because of a rule adopted by DCF back in December limiting shelters on how many migrant children they could serve and prohibiting these providers from accepting children unless the federal government enters into an agreement with the state detailing more information about the children it sends to Florida.

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Thursday’s announcement from DCF makes that temporary rule permanent.

“This is the first time I’ve ever seen the Department of Children and Families issued a statement that is political and partisan in nature,” said Representative Anna Eskamani, a Democrat who represents Orlando. “It is unheard of for a state agency to engage in this type of political partisanship. DCF is supposed to take care of all children and not throw punches at the Biden administration,” Eskamani said in response to DCF’s latest move.

Governor DeSantis, who is widely rumored to be making a run for the White House in 2024, his actions are are aimed at stopping the influx of illegal immigrants into Florida and what he described as “Biden’s Border Crisis” with “open-door policies and lax immigration enforcement.” He also has said resources should be focused on Florida kids and not kids from other countries when speaking about the ongoing controversy over bringing children and shelters, most of them faith-based, into a political debate. The shelters in Florida that are contracted by the federal government to care for migrant kids are fully funded by the federal government to do so.

DCF’s latest rule applies only to the unaccompanied children’s program and not the federal refugee program, which operates under different laws.

Earlier this week, a spokesperson with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services sent us the following statement:

“It is our legal responsibility to safely care for unaccompanied children. As part of the unification process with a vetted sponsor, our Office of Refugee Resettlement facilitates travel for the children in its custody to vetted sponsors across the country. HHS is currently examining all the legal options available at its disposal to ensure that our shelters continue to provide services to the unaccompanied minors in our care. We will take every step needed to support our partners and ensure that the children under our care are in a safe and secure environment.” 

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