First Lady Casey DeSantis announced on Friday morning $12 million in funding to expand peer-to-peer mental health services available for first responders through the Department of Children and Families (DCF) to improve upon pre-existing prevention and intervention services for first responders and their families.
Speaking at the Firefighter’s Museum in Tampa, First Lady DeSantis stated that the funding will be equally invested across all six DCF regions (Northwest, Northeast, Central, SunCoast, Southeast and Southern) and will create or expand existing local peer-based services. These services will help to connect first responders and their families with peers who are trained in offering information and supportive counseling.
“Our first responders have made it their life’s work to put the needs of others before their own,” said First Lady DeSantis. “It is vital that we provide them with resiliency and mental health resources to continue serving our communities. By expanding these services, we can help to create a strong network of support for our first responders.”
The announcement comes just days after Governor Ron DeSantis announced pay raises for first responders including Law Enforcement Officers, EMT responders, and fire rescue. DeSantis also proposed financial investment to the retention of correctional officers through wage bonuses and a higher base pay ($20/hr).
“First responders impact the lives of Floridians every day and they deserve our support,” said Gov. DeSantis. “In Florida, we realize that on top of financial support, our first responders need to have resources available to support their mental health. We will continue to make investments in our first responders that will make lasting impacts.”
Gov. DeSantis cited the recent Surfside apartment collapse as an example of necessary implementation of mental health services for first responders.
“It does take an emotional toll, this work you have to do and what you are exposed to,” said Gov. DeSantis. “We need to have resources as people have challenges involving mental health resilience, and the First Lady has really led the way on that.”
As well as expanding peer-to-peer services, DCF launched the First Responder Resiliency resource page on their website. The page provides first responders with available mental health resources that they can call or access at any time.
The efforts show a continuation of mental health advocacy under the DeSantis administration, as today’s announcement adds to a growing list of investment in spaces such as Florida schools and workplaces.