Rep. Josie Tomkow wants to make it easier for foster parents and temporary guardians to adopt kids who have been bounced around in the foster system.
Sen. Wilton Simpson, incoming president of the Florida Senate, plans to sponsor the bill in that chamber.
Tomkow plans to file a bill that would balance child placement stability with the rights of biological parents. The idea is not to take kids away from their parents without due process, but rather to provide a pathway to adoption for kids whose parents have exhausted their options, failed to follow reunification guidelines or who present a danger to their kids.
“This is about doing what is in the best interest of the child and not necessarily just what is in the best interest of the parent,” Tomkow said.
Tomkow hasn’t filed the bill yet and is still fine tuning language based on various discussions with stakeholders. But she has a solid idea of what it will include.
The bill will provide a process for better communication between caregivers and biological parents and set parameters for how and when to communicate. The language is intended to protect foster parents and caregivers from threats from parents whose children have been removed from their care.
It would also include training requirements for judges who handle child removal cases so they understand the ultimate goals for children and the child welfare process. That training is something Tomkow said judges have told her they want.
The bill would also address situations in which biological parents are not fulfilling the process set forth to maintain or regain custody of their children. That includes enforcing orders for things like substance abuse, parental classes or substance abuse treatment.
Tomkow stressed that her bill is not intended to make it more difficult for parents who are taking the appropriate steps to improve the situation for which their child was removed to regain custody.
“If a parent is really trying to improve their situation and do what is in their child’s best interest, this bill is not about them,” she said.
Rather, she intends the legislation to address either parents who consistently fail to meet basic requirements or situations where children have been in and out of the child welfare system their whole lives.
Tomkow said she’s also working on language that would protect children from bad foster parents. That likely means language that strengthens the vetting process for foster parents and increases recruitment efforts for good ones.