An effort to protect young children in the state’s child welfare program is likely heading to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ desk soon after the Senate approved the measure unanimously Friday.
The measure, dubbed Jordan’s Law, passed 40-0. The Senate passed the House version of the bill (HB 43) 40-0, but added an amendment. The House previously approved the amended bill also unanimously in late February. That vote was 117-0. However, since the Senate amended the bill, it will have to head back to the House for approval as amended. The House is expected to approve the changes.
The measure was a priority for Rep. Chris Latvala, the bill’s sponsor. He ran the bill last year, but the effort died in the Senate after getting hung up in committee.
The bill is named after a 2-year-old boy, Jordan Belliveau, who died from head trauma inflicted by his biological mother. Child welfare workers missed several opportunities to protect the child whose death bill officials believe could have been avoided.
Broadly, the bill would implement training protocols for officials involved in the child welfare process including case workers, police officers and first responders to identify head trauma in very young children. It would also incorporate policies to reduce case burden for social workers and other logistical reforms aimed at increasing safety.
As amended, the bill includes third party credentialing for Department of Children and Families employees to hold workers accountable if something goes wrong. It also now includes a provision for law enforcement to access Florida Department of Law Enforcement and DCF files in some cases.
The bill would provide 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 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.