Florida lawmaker pushing for 'Jordan's Law' to hire more caseworkers

- The death of a Largo toddler has prompted one state lawmaker to push for change to the state's child welfare system.

State Representative Chris Latvala, R-Clearwater, said he plans on introducing “Jordan’s Law” into the Florida House of Representatives. The proposed law would give caseworkers with the Department of Children and Families more resources. 

"It will be impossible to fix it overnight, but I think anything in terms of funding and resources would be an improvement," he said.

Jordan Belliveau’s mother, Charisse Stinson, is accused of killing her son in a moment of rage and dumping his body in the woods. Court records show Jordan was removed from a violent home at the age of 4 months, but was later returned to his biological mother.

Jordan's foster parents, who wanted to adopt him, said "the system," designed to keep the little boy safe, failed. 

"A lot of people failed this kid. First and foremost his mother and father failed him," Latvala told FOX 13. "There are a lot of different things to learn from it. You know, DCF can do their job 99 percent of the time, but that's not good enough if there's one Jordan Belliveau that falls through the cracks."

Funeral services for Jordan Belliveau are scheduled for 10 a.m. Saturday, at St. John's Missionary Baptist Church in Clearwater. Anyone who would like to donate to help with funeral service costs may do so by calling Carnegie-Dallas Funeral Services at 727-330-7661.

Rebecca Bryce, a former case manager for a Pinellas County agency, said she'll never forget how she felt when she heard about Jordan's case.

"My first reaction was, of course, heartbreak," she said. "There are too many people with their hands on things and I think that there was a lot of missed opportunities to provide that child the proper amount of safety."

Bryce said she, like many of her former coworkers, was overworked as a case manager.

"The longer you've been there and the better you are at your job, the higher the caseloads. So I have seen case managers that had upwards of 30 cases," she explained, adding she was involved in 33 cases at one time. "Something has to change. These kids need to be safe."

Representative Latvala is proposing a bill that would cut the number of cases a child protective investigator handles at once by more than half, from an average of 24 to 10, so there would be less oversight. Latvala said he also wants them paid more so there will be less turnover. 

Bryce, for example, said most case managers make about $17 or $18 an hour.

Dr. Chris Card, the chief of community-based care for Eckerd Connects, which places children into foster care, believes Jordan's Law is proposing changes that are necessary.

"Having that many cases -- 24, 25, 30 -- becomes very overwhelming and the expectation is very high of what case managers should be able to accomplish," Card said. "For us to really be able to manage that and meet the expectations and protect these children, we need to lower these caseloads."

Card also addressed the issue of low pay leading to a high turnover rate.

In the Pinellas-Pasco Judicial District, three agencies that manage cases average a staggering 80-percent turnover rate during the last year. In Hillsborough County, the turnover rate for three agencies was more than 50 percent.

"They're not only working very hard all the time, but they're also dealing with a lot of angst and issues and problems that wear them out. And so, to manage that, it takes a special person," he said.

Bryce believes this often leads to several case managers handling one case and that can lead to mistakes.

"It is true that the more cases managers you have, not only do you have higher risk during transition and changeovers, but a new case manager coming in has to get to know that family all over again," she said.

The Department of Children and Families is investigating whether mistakes were made in Jordan's case. Eckerd Connects contracted his case to another organization that handles case management. Eckerd told FOX 13 it is not discussing the case until DCF finishes its investigation.

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