Series Of Child Welfare Bills Continue Moving In Florida Legislature

Feb 13, 2018

Credit MGN Online

A number of child welfare bills are continuing to move in the Florida Legislature.

Many of the bills deal with trying to expedite the process for kids within the foster care system to find more permanent homes.

For example, one measure establishes a “family finding program” that will serve as an additional resource for the Florida Department of Children and Families working with local sheriff’s offices.

It’s (HB 1435) sponsored by Rep. Daniel Perez (R-Miami).

“The big picture here is we’re trying to make sure that if there is a relative that meets the right requirements and background checks and all that good stuff, that that be the first stop for a child in the welfare system,” he said. “Secondly, the bill would require a Community Based Care organization—or CBCs—to establish a Kinship Navigator program, which would assist these family members that are taking in these foster children with the proper support services and resources, while under the care of the family member.”

Another bill (HB 281) by Rep. Patricia Williams (D-Fort Lauderdale) speeds up—an often delayed—process for children of incarcerated parents to find permanent homes by involving the imprisoned parent in the case plan for the child. It’s already passed the House and cleared all its Senate committees.

“When you have parents who have been incarcerated, they need a parent plan that the judge hands down and they know exactly what they need to do while they’re incarcerated, so when they are released, they will have the ability to join back with the children they were taken away from,” she said, speaking last month on WFSU Perspectives. “If they don’t have a plan, they don’t know what they’re supposed to be doing while they’re incarcerated. So, if they don’t have a plan while they’re incarcerated, it makes it longer for that child to be in the system itself.”

Still, the case plan is not a guarantee the child will be returned to the parent following their incarceration, as that child could be adopted into another family.

Meanwhile, a bill is starting to move in both the House and Senate aiming to hold the state’s reunification process—in general—more accountable.

For example, the comprehensive bill includes a provision requiring a parent to notify the court if there’s a barrier to completing the case plan for their child.

Sen. Bill Montford (D-Tallahassee) says it also requires a child’s reunification process be completed in one year or less.

“The concept behind this legislation is that a year is a long, long time in a child’s life,” he said. “A year in our lives is just not that long, and we should be holding all the party’s accountable to achieve what’s in the best interest of the children in a very timely manner. And, this bill will hold everyone—the Department’s, the courts, and the parents—accountable to make their best effort in achieving the permanency of children in a very timely manner. Again, a year, in a child’s life is a long, long time.”

And, Sen. Dennis Baxley (R-Ocala) says this hits close to home for him.

“This bill is my personal story,” he said. “It took me three years to get my foster kids cleared for adoption. So, anything that moves towards permanency for them is huge.”

Meanwhile, another bill that’s already passed all its House committees and is now in the Senate is a Memorial, asking Congress to renew a federal waiver that allows DCF to fund a lot of different child welfare programs worth millions of dollars. The “Title IV-E” funding waiver—as it’s called—will expire in 2019.

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter: @SaschaCordner.