Partners across the state are recognizing May as National Foster Care Month in Florida. The state has about 5,400 licensed foster homes, and there’s a need for more. Now, two bills relating to child welfare have passed the Florida Legislature and are headed to the governor’s desk.
"Many of you know that I served for 20 years in the United States military, and I’ve learned a thing or two about moving,” said Rep. Spencer Roach (R-North Fort Myers), telling House members about moving 13 times and being deployed to various countries.
“That was my choice, and I at least had a chance to voice my preference during the assignment process," Roach said. "That is not the case in Florida for our 24-thousand children who are languishing in Florida’s foster care system. 60 percent of those children have been in the process for 12 months or longer.”
Roach says he recently heard about a young child in his district who spent his first month in the foster system being shuttled to a new home each day.
“I’d like you to think about that - a four-year-old child, 30 days, 30 different homes," Roach said. "Can you imagine the trauma to that little boy? That is unacceptable and no child should have to endure that.”
Roach is one of the lawmakers behind legislation to address that. The bill requires parents whose kids have been placed in the system to be referred for services within seven days, and they must notify the court of any barriers to completing their case plan. Parents who don’t complete their case plan within one year may have their parental rights terminated.
Roach says the goal is to get abused or neglected children back home or into a new permanent one within a year.
“This is a good bill that will get children into permanent homes faster," Roach said. "With your vote today, I’d like you to indicate to these 24-thousand children that they’ve been heard and help is on the way.”
A separate bill expands a public records exemption related to child welfare. Rep. Rick Roth (R-West Palm Beach) told House members it protects the identifying information of anyone who reports child abuse, abandonment, or neglect.
“Such information would be kept confidential and exempt, and would only be released to specified persons, officials, and agencies specified in law,” Roth said.
Supporters say shielding the identity of those who report abuse – such as doctors and school employees - will prevent retaliation by the abused child’s family members. Such retaliation could inhibit witnesses from contributing important information in a child abuse investigation.