By: Karina Gonzalez
Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) is vested with authority over substance abuse services and is responsible to approve at least one credentialing entity to develop and administer a voluntary certification program for recovery residences also referred to as sober homes. DCF approved FARR (Florida Association of Recovery Residences) as the provider for the voluntary certification program, and it is the only certifying entity, it is the only game in town for sober homes. The issue at hand now is not whether certification is good or necessary for the sober living industry, rather, the issue is that sober homes have no due process giving them an entry point into the system to challenge DCF or FARR when their certification has been denied, revoked or suspended or some other sanction has been imposed!
While sober home certification is referred to as “voluntary” there is absolutely nothing voluntary about it. A sober home will not be able to keep its business running without FARR certification. This is because substance abuse providers cannot refer any of their clients to a sober home that is not FARR certified and cannot accept a referral from an uncertified sober home. This prohibition on referrals to and from non-FARR certified sober homes also makes it a first-degree misdemeanor for anyone who violates the prohibition. In addition, there is an administrative fine of $1000 per occurrence in the law should anyone violate the referral prohibition.
Amazingly, DCF has no process for appeal when a sober home is denied certification, revoked certification or receives a suspended certification from FARR, neither entity has rules to redress this process. Likewise, FARR has no process of appeal for sober homes when it denies, revokes or suspends certification, or imposes some other sanction. FARR has unfettered discretion in making decisions about certification, sober homes do not have an entry point to have their issue heard through an independent, objective appeal process. Sober homes are being denied due process based on this lack of appeal process when they have been denied “voluntary” certification. Florida Statute 397.487 states that a denial, revocation, suspension of FARR certification is reviewable by DCF but as shown our review shows that there is no such process or procedure in place.
Florida substance abuse providers and sober homes have no trade association to promote, develop and voice publicly concerns about common issues facing the industry. They have no group to attend legislative sessions and impact laws that affect their industry. The DCF/FARR certification dilemma is a perfect example of the compelling need to form a trade association for the providers in the substance abuse field.