JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — After her daughter and a daughter-in-law were each jailed on drug charges last fall, Sylvia Kimble, 46, poor and with a deeply troubled history of her own, struggled to care for six grandchildren.So the authorities had every reason to take her kids away, but they did not.
Only a few years ago, officials here say, the safest path would have been to split up the children in foster care. Yet here they are, rambunctious children wrestling in her living room, Ms. Kimble encouraging her daughter’s out-patient drug rehabilitation while also arranging for summer camp and a family trip to a water park.
Ms. Kimble hardly seemed like an ideal anchor for the children, three of whom have psychological problems. She had spent 20 years on the streets herself, using drugs and without receiving treatment for bipolar disorder. Clean for 11 years now, she nonetheless admitted she had little experience with parenting, having left her own children in her mother’s care.
But Florida’s radical transformation of its child-welfare system, marked by a wholesale shift in spending, allowed officials to take a chance on Ms. Kimble. Instead of spending large sums for foster care, it provided in-home counseling, therapy for the children and cash aid to help the makeshift family stay intact and even thrive.
While the focus on preserving families has taken hold in several states, here it has been backed by a federal waiver that allows the state to use foster care financing for prevention and mental health, an approach that advocates of the program hope will become standard nationwide.
Meanwhile, no one has been able to find anything that I have done wrong, or detected any harm or threat of harm to my kids, and yet I cannot even see my kids.
Eight evaluations said that I don't have any psychological problems, drug problems, or anything like that. My kids are straight-A students, and everyone says that they were doing fine with me.
Apparently, part of the problem is that the feds pay money to bust up families:
In addition, Florida in 2006 was the only state to take full advantage of an experimental waiver offered by the Bush administration. Ordinarily, federal aid is determined by how many children are in custody. Florida asked to receive a flat fee that it could spend on counseling and other aid instead of foster care when it wished. The shift was seen as fiscally risky — an increase in foster children would not bring more money — but it has paid off.Let's hope that other states learn from this. There should be no federal financial incentives to destroy families.