Governor Rick Scott recently signed bills aimed at changing Florida’s guardianship laws. One relates to helping the exploited elderly and another aims to help developmentally disabled kids aging out of Florida’s foster care system.
The Regis Little Act to Protect Children with Special Needs is named after a young man who was stabbed to death in 2009. He’d aged out of the foster care system, had bipolar disorder among other issues, and refused state assistance.
“Regis Little is a boy who was murdered about a couple months after his 18th birthday, when he walked out of a group home, and was murdered on the street,” said Alan Abramowitz, Florida Guardian ad Litem Executive Director. “And, everyone who knew him could see that that was the writing on the wall, that that was going to happen. I actually talked to his sister up in North Carolina about the bill. And, in going through the bill with her, she said ‘he would have been saved, and there are people there that would have been his guardian there and would have helped direct him.’”
Abramowitz championed a newly signed measure to help young adults, like Regis.
“This bill actually puts in place a process so children that do not have the capacity to make decisions for themselves—but are in foster care—can now have that Guardian or Guardian advocate to assist them so these children will be safe even after they leave the foster care system,” added Abramowitz.
Abramowitz applauded the Governor for giving his final stamp of approval. So, did, House sponsor, Rep. Janet Adkins (R-Fernandina Beach).
“It’s a common sense bill,. When you look at the children that we serve in the state of Florida, children in our foster care system that have an intellectual disability…when they age out of that foster care system, they’re going through a system where literally every decision is being made for them to a system where they’re completely on their own,” said Adkins.
There’s also a reform effort that cracks down on court-appointed Guardians who take advantage of the elderly.
“We traditionally in the state of Florida have been very proactive in protecting our vulnerable citizens—the children—but there hasn’t been as much emphasis on our older population. You know, elderly exploitation is characterized as the crime of the 21st century,” said Rep. Kathleen Passidomo (R-Naples).
Passidomo sponsored the reform effort in the House.
“One of the problems that we’ve been having is court appointed Guardians who are in charge of the older person’s assets and their persons have been taking advantage of them and basically wasting the assets, overcharging the ward’s estates, and not taking very good care of them. So, we decided that we needed to take a look at the current laws that address guardianships and realize that they are way out of date,” added Passidomo.
So, she says the new law would properly define the Guardian’s role as well as puts in statute that abuse, neglect, or exploitation of an elderly ward by a guardian is a criminal offense.
“We also want to hold the courts accountable for how they appoint Guardians because one of the things we found was that when there was big estates—and I’m talking millions and millions of dollars—some judges were appointing friends because the more money that an estate had, the more money the Guardians could make. And, so, we put in a provision—it’s very simple—that when a judge appoints a Guardian, they have to say why they appointed that particular person, just to make it a little more transparent,” Passidomo continued.
By addressing how Guardians are appointed on an emergency basis, Passidomo says the measure also aims to crack down on professional guardians doing what’s called “trolling for wards.”
“What some professional Guardians were doing were going into nursing homes and basically—and this is the term that I’m hearing—trolling for clients. They were looking for older adults that didn’t have family close by, living in these nursing homes to see if they could be declared incompetent, and then have themselves appointed as their guardian, and that was going on all over the state. And, so we changed the process on the appointment of an emergency, temporary Guardian,” she said.
It also allows the court to assess a ward who may be just temporarily incapacitated, and may not need a permanent Guardian. Both new laws will take effect July 1st.
For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter: @SaschaCordner.