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Kinship Care, Fictive Kin Bill Heading To Governor's Desk

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Mary Blackwey
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Unsplash

Rep. Spencer Roach (R-North Fort Myers) has been pushing a proposal allowing judges to decide whether a transition plan is appropriate when transferring a child out of temporary custody and into full custody of a parent.

"We have seen over the last decade... with the opioid crisis... an explosion of kids entering the child welfare system," Roach said directly before a January committee meeting on his bill. He's hoping to give families what he calls an 'exit ramp' from dependency proceedings.

These proceedings happen if a parent has abused, neglected, or abandoned their child. The Florida Department of Children and Families is the agency that typically initiates these hearings. Roach is targeting a specific situation—when a parent abandons their child at a relative's house and then disappears. Some lawyers say the DCF might not consider that situation abandonment, meaning families would have to go through dependency court on their own or file a petition for temporary custody. To qualify, extended family members must already be caring full-time for the child and acting as a substitute for that child's parent. However, the parent, if found fit, can terminate that custody and take the child back whenever they want. Roach says that can cause problems and uses a story he heard from Senate bill sponsor,  Aaron Bean (R-Jacksonville) to illustrate that

"A parent... recognized... they were unfit due to addiction and did the right thing for their child and dropped the child off with their parent then disappeared for close to a decade," Roach said. 

The parent showed up one day and asked to take the child back.

Roach and Bean's bill attempts to resolve this situation. When relatives file for a petition, they must include a transition plan for giving the child back. Judges could then decide whether to enforce this plan when the parent returns. The proposal allows fictive kin to petition as well. These are non-relatives of a child who have a family-like relationship with them.

"Sometimes, there isn't an extended family member that either wants the child or is also capable of caring for the child," Roach says.

That addition raised concerns in January from David Hirschberg with the Family Law Section of the Florida Bar. He spoke during a committee meeting on a previous version of Roach's bill.

"Expanding it to beyond close family members to a neighbor, to a friend, it could lead to unintended consequences," Hirschberg said

He couldn't be reached Friday to see whether his concerns remain.