A bill giving a “massive overhaul” to how and where the state places children within the child welfare system is on its way to the Senate floor.
The Senate Rules Committee gave unanimous approval to a bill (SB 80), filed by Sen. Jason Brodeur, making several changes to the system to prioritize finding children a permanent place to call home.
In December, Florida had 22,000 kids in out-of-home care, removed from their homes due to abuse or neglect. Some kids remain in foster care until they turn 18, meaning they enter adulthood without a permanent family.
Finding a family for those children is a priority for Brodeur and Senate President Wilton Simpson, who were both adopted as kids.
The bill has generated a lot of interest in the child welfare realm, Brodeur said, and he has been in extensive talks with the Department of Children and Families. That department handed the Senator eight pages-worth of feedback, some of which he addressed in a redraft Thursday.
“One of the great things about working with a vulnerable population like this is you recognize how many people really are all on board to try to get these things done in the best interest of the kids,” Brodeur told the committee.
The bill outlines the state’s preferred order for where a child should be housed, with priority given to a setting that is most like home.
If possible, a child should first be placed with a non-offending parent, according to the bill. Next, in order of preference, comes a relative caregiver, an adoptive parent of the child’s sibling, fictive kin like past caregivers who have developed a close relationship with the child, licensed foster care, and then group or congregate care.
Siblings should also be placed together if it is possible and in the children’s interests, the bill adds.
The bill also has a scaled-back version of Brodeur’s vision for the personnel involved in deciding whether to transfer a child from one caregiver to another. Initially Brodeur wanted mental health counselors involved in every multidisciplinary team, but the Senator says that would have exploded DCF’s budget.
“Their only challenge is going to be the fiscal part because there are ways and things in here that we’re asking them to do a little bit differently,” Brodeur said. “They submitted a budget to us. We have changed the bill in turn to reduce some of that pressure on them, and we’re working with them to make sure they have the resources necessary to do multidisciplinary and to make sure we’re doing it.”
The multidisciplinary team would include the child, family and others considered important to the child, current caregivers, the child’s case manager, a department representative, and a community-based care representative. If necessary to meet the team’s goals, they can also invite a Children’s Medical Services representative, a guardian ad litem, a school representative, a therapist, a mental health professional, or a community service provider.
Simpson has noted Brodeur’s legislation several times this Session. During his remarks on the first day of Session, Simpson thanked Brodeur for trying to put an end to the “revolving door” that is the foster care system.
“We know that the sooner a child has a permanent living situation, the better off they will be,” he told senators. “And the reason we need to act now is because Government is a terrible parent. All children need a loving home. Let us rally together to find permanent ones where they can thrive.”
Brodeur’s version is ready for the Senate floor, but the House bill (HB 1473), filed by Coral Gables Republican Rep. Demi Busatta Cabrera, has two more committee stops to go. Both versions would take effect in October.