Gov. Ron DeSantis signed legislation Thursday lawmakers believe could save children’s lives in the state welfare system.
The law (HB 43), which goes into effect July 1, is aimed at catching red flags in a child’s life before their case turns traumatic or fatal. Rep. Chris Latvala, the legislation’s House sponsor, called the signing the proudest moment of his public service career.
“This bill will fix a broken system and save lives and I thank Governor Ron DeSantis for signing it,” the Pinellas County Republican said. “His administration has taken an intense focus on reforming the child welfare system in Florida. His (Department of Children and Families) Secretary, Chad Poppell, is committed to protecting Florida’s kids. I want to thank DCF for their help on this bill.”
The bill is named after a 2-year-old boy, Jordan Belliveau, who died from head trauma inflicted by his biological mother in September 2018. Child welfare workers missed several opportunities to protect the child whose death officials believe could have been avoided.
“I still remember where I was when I received the Amber Alert on my phone about a missing 2-year old from Largo,” Latvala said. “Precious Jordan lived 2 short years on this earth, but he will forever leave a mark on me, this community, and his legacy will be one that protects kids like him. The systematic failures that led to Jordan Belliveau’s death are inexcusable and I believe this bill addresses those failures.”
Tampa Democrat Darryl Rouson led the effort in the Senate and agreed the legislation would have saved Belliveau’s life.
The law will reduce case manager’s workload, streamline communication between agencies and increase training for parents, caseworkers, and law enforcement.
Broadly, the measure implements 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 also incorporates policies to reduce case burden for social workers and other logistical reforms aimed at increasing safety.
The legislation includes third party credentialing for DCF employees to hold workers accountable if something goes wrong. It also includes a provision for law enforcement to access Department of Law Enforcement and DCF files in some cases.
Additionally, the legislation provides standards for judges who handle dependency cases including those that involve recognizing and responding to head trauma or brain injury in children under 6 years old.
It also requires 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 will be centrally compiled in a Florida Crime Information Center database to ensure anyone involved in child protection has access to the information.
The law also requires 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.
Lawmakers unanimously approved the bill during the 2020 Session. Latvala also filed the bill in the 2019 Session, when it stalled in the Senate committee process.
Florida Politics reporter Janelle Irwin Taylor contributed to this report.