“The Normalcy Bill” is a nickname for the legislation Governor Scott signed into law on Thursday. Children’s advocates are celebrating the new law they say will give the state’s more than 7,000 foster children lives like any other child.
For children who live in foster care, the state of Florida has a say in even the most trivial parts of their lives. Former foster child Emmanuel Oliver, from Palm Beach County, remembers what it was like when he was in high school and he wanted to see movies at the theater with his friends. “Then you’re getting court orders, and you have to wait for those court orders. And it takes forever.” He said, sometimes, by the time he got state approval, it was too late. “And the movies could be out of the movie theaters because you have to wait for all that,” he said.
It’s not just movies. Measures that were meant to keep kids safe, ended up keeping them from going on school trips, performing in plays and going with their families to beaches outside their counties.
But that’s all about to change, with the law that goes into effect on July 1. Florida Gov. Rick Scott said, “I’ve heard this bill can be called many different things, from the Quality Parenting Act to the Permission To Parent Act. However, I think the right title should be the Let Kids Be Kids bill.”
The governor spoke in front of the Capitol Thursday morning. It’s one of the first bills he’s signing this session, and he held a ceremony surrounded by children’s advocates and foster families. “Florida’s children today are the leaders of tomorrow. And those in foster care should be given every opportunity that those not in foster care are given,” he said.
The bill allows Florida’s more than 4,000 foster parents to make decisions that would have required state approval before. Because of the restrictions, its estimated only 3 percent of 18-year-old foster children have a driver’s license. But Scott said, he expects that percentage to rise. “I remember when my first daughter learned to drive I wanted to get out of the car,” he said. “But this new law will allow foster parents to teach their kids how to drive a car—I wish them a lot of luck—and prepare them for their future.”
As Scott signed the bill, Victoria Jackson couldn’t hold back her tears.“It’s crazy that we have walked these halls, and I mean, the hard work and the effort that have gone into this bill getting signed…it paid off,” she said. Jackson is with the group Florida Youth SHINE, a statewide network of former foster children who advocate to make life better for those still in the system.
Jackson said it’s taken three years to get this bill passed. And it didn’t seem real until just now. “And this morning, when I’m actually hearing the words, and I’m looking at the folder with the markers and Rick Scott, it’s humbling. It’s like, ‘Wow,’” she said.
Monice Jackson is another Youth SHINE advocate and former foster child from Tallahassee. “After this bill, I won’t have to worry about my brothers and sisters now in care because they’ll have the opportunity to do all, everything that any normal child does—going to the park or walking down the street with your best friend or, ‘Can I walk to school instead of taking the bus? It’s a beautiful day.’ You couldn’t do those things before but now it’s just changing,” she said.
Sen. Nancy Detert (R-Venice) sponsored the bill. She says the best ideas come from the bottom, not the top. She gives credit to advocates from the Guardian ad Litem program and Youth SHINE. “You don’t want the words ‘foster care’ stamped on your head. You don’t want to be a ‘foster’ kid; you just want to be a regular kid, and this bill will help you do that,” she said.
The bill’s House sponsor, Rep. Ben Albritton (R-Bartow) said, “It’s the beginning of a new day. It’s the beginning of a new freedom and a new opportunity for kids to be able to live their lives to the maximum.”
Florida has almost 8,000 children living as wards of the state in the foster care system. More than 5,500 are living with foster parents. And Florida First Lady Ann Scott hopes to see more. “The challenges that foster parents face are great. But the rewards are even greater. And I encourage more Floridians to consider sharing their homes and their hearts with children in need,” she said.
Information on the foster care system can be found online at FosteringFlorida.com