State Rep. Chris Latvala officially filed his second attempt at legislation creating a series of child protections within the state’s vast child welfare network.
Latvala filed Jordan’s Law (HB 43) on Friday. As promised, the bill is largely the same as what was proposed last year.
Under Latvala’s bill, the Florida Court Education Council would establish standards for instruction for judges who handle dependency cases including those that involve recognizing and responding to head trauma and/or brain injury in children under six.
It would also require notification to appropriate agencies and officials if a parent or caregiver is currently the subject of a child protective investigation for child abuse, abandonment or neglect or in cases where a child has been returned to the home under judicial supervision. Information would be centrally compiled in a Florida Crime Information Center database to ensure anyone involved in child protection has access to the information.
The legislation is in response to the death of two-year old Jordan Belliveau whose body was found in the woods behind the Largo Sports Complex after his mother struck him in the head and left him for dead last year.
There were several red flags missed in Belliveau’s case. His death came just 24-hours after caseworkers warned his mother her son would be again removed from her care if she didn’t respond to required improvements.
Had law enforcement officers and caseworkers been more aware of the countless problems the family had faced he might not have been returned to his mother’s care and his death might have been avoided.
Latvala made Jordan’s Law one of his top priorities last year. It easily cleared the House, but stalled in the Senate. This year Latvala is vowing that won’t happen again and has launched a website to help earn support for the bill.
The bill would require law enforcement to report to a central hotline any suspicions or concerns about child welfare. That central abuse hotline would then provide information to child protective investigators or a child’s case manager.
It would establish brain injury and head trauma training for any person who is a part of the child protective process including, but not limited to, law enforcement officers, case work, child protection investigators and guardian ad litem workers.
The law would also require an intensive family reunification process that combines child welfare and mental health services to ensure children are safe when they’re placed back with families.
The bill would also give agencies the option to create a special department for children under six. If adopted, those programs would allow no more than 15 children per caseworker to avoid situations where overworked case managers miss key warning signs.