State lawmakers are working to build on past successful legislative foster care reform efforts with a new proposal aimed at helping Florida’s foster kids learn how to drive and get a driver’s license. That’s been pinpointed as one of the barriers they face as they try to lead a normal life.
The Obstacles Of Obtaining A License
According to Florida’s Guardian Ad Litem Program, only two to three percent of the state's foster children who are eligible to drive actually do learn to drive and have a driver’s license by the time they’re 18-years-old. And, Chelsea Bramblett, who’s since aged out of foster care, says she’s part of the larger percentage that didn’t learn until after she was 18.
“At one point, my sister and I were doing a road trip and I was driving her car. And, she was telling me what to do, and she’s like ‘you don’t know this stuff?’ And, I said ‘no, I’ve never had driving experience.’ I was 18-year-old, and I didn’t know certain things,” said Bramblett.
Bramblett is also a part of Florida Youth Shine in Pensacola, a group of former foster kids whose goal is to help current foster kids. She says in her case, she had a learner’s permit at the age of 15, but when she later got put into the foster care system, she could not learn how to drive or get her driver’s license because the cost of insurance would be too high for her foster mother.
“I wasn’t able to drive anyone’s vehicle. My foster mom told me she would let me drive her vehicle, but she couldn’t because of the insurance problem. So, I had my permit for three years. I had no driving experience. And, I wasn’t able to get my license until after my 18th birthday when I’d be able to insure myself,” added Bramblett.
21-year-old Danielle Mcmahan, another member of Florida Youth Shine in Hillsborough County, has a similar story. While she got her learner’s permit at age 15, she was only able to get her license, just before she turned her current age.
“I was able to get my learner’s permit through the class at school, but unfortunately, you have to get ten hours of practice time during a vehicle outside of school, and I wasn’t able to because my foster mom didn’t have the time. She worked a lot and she was a single parent. So, I wasn’t able to practice and get my driver’s license. I was actually able to get my driver’s license at the beginning of this year,” said Mcmahan.
She says not having a car when she was younger really affected both her home and work life. For example, her family and friends lived across town and she had to take a bus ride, which could last for hours. And, she says at 17, getting to her job at KFC was equally frustrating.
“With the bus service, here in Tampa, it’s okay, if you know the bus system, but if you don’t know it, like trying to get somewhere on time, you would have to leave hours before you can get there. So, there were times where I was late to work because I took the bus, and if there were any kind of delay, like if there was an argument on the bus and the bus driver is trying to kick someone off, and you’re stuck there for like, ten minutes. And, you’re like ‘I need to get to work, I need to get here,’ and I can’t because of that stupid delay on the bus. And, anything could go wrong. And, for whatever reason, I would miss work and I’d be late or I wouldn’t make it back on time for curfew,” said Mcmahan.
Upcoming Legislation To Address The Problem
And, Alan Abramowitz says stories, like theirs, are all too common in Florida. That’s why as Executive Director of Florida’s Guardian Ad Litem Program, he’s hoping to make things easier for foster kids to learn how to drive and to get their driver’s license through a bill two state lawmakers are soon expected to file.
“And, we anticipate the bill will be filed soon by Senator Nancy Detert and Representative Ben Albritton. They are the two sponsors of the Normalcy Bill, or the Let Kids Be Kids bill last year. And, this is really an extension of the normalcy because it is normal for children to learn to drive as they get to that age,” said Abramowitz.
The so-called “Let Kids Be Kids” bill—now law—allows foster parents to have more of a role in what their kids can do, like, go to an away game or go to a sleepover, rather than go through the courts.
And, Abramowitz says the sponsors of that bill are now hoping to build on that legislation and file a bill to help kids get safe driving experience. It includes creating a statewide pilot program to make sure kids learn to drive, get their driver’s license, and help foster parents with the cost.
“This legislation, if passed, would have a fund available that foster parents or group homes or Community Based Care, or other caregivers could be reimbursed for the difference of the cost of insurance, so there’s not additional funds. Also, reimburse driver’s education classes, the other cost associated with learning to drive,” added Abramowitz.
Jane Soltis is the longtime chair of the Florida Independent Living Services Advisory Council, who conducted the research for the proposal. She says like the “Let Kids Be Kids” law, which was even the subject of Congressional hearing earlier this year, she hopes the state becomes the first again to put some rules in place to address the issue of foster kids getting a driver’s license.
“Nobody has really cracked the nut on how to help kids get this, get their education and their driver’s license, how to support it, and how to work out the liability issue for foster parents. So, there’s pieces of it that some states have been able to crack, but not the whole nut. So, we’re hoping that, at some point, at the end of this pilot, we may be able to crack the whole nut and be the first state to do that,” said Soltis.
And, Representative Ben Albritton, the bill’s soon-to-be House sponsor, says putting this bill together just makes good sense, calling it a “rite of passage.”
“If a foster child has good enough grades—and we’re working on what that number’s going to be—aren’t in trouble, being well-behaved, they should be rewarded to get a driver’s license…that should help them get a job, maybe, take some pressure off the foster family. Think about it from that perspective. I’ve got a 15-year-old about to be 16 and I’m nervous, but at the end of the day, she’s going to be mobile. There’s a certain value to these kids being mobile. And, quite, frankly, I think it helps these kids to grow up in a lot of ways,” said Albritton.
Unless the proposal changes before it’s filed, eligible foster kids must maintain a 2.2 GPA and for the first year of operation, it asks for $1.5 million. It also develops a three-year-pilot program to see if the legislation is hurting or helping, and those findings will be reported back to the Legislature and the Governor.
Meanwhile, Senator Detert filed a similar bill in 2007. But, only select counties could undergo the pilot, not the entire state.
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