The Senate has passed a bill giving a “massive overhaul” to how and where the state places children within the child welfare system.
By a unanimous vote, senators passed Sen. Jason Brodeur‘s proposal (SB 80) that would 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 because of 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.
Brodeur has been in extensive talks with the Department of Children and Families, including fielding their recommendations on how to adjust the system.
“This legislation has generated much interest in the child welfare arena, and there have been extensive conversations with DCF and all the other stakeholders in child welfare to get this to a place that you see today,” Brodeur told senators.
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 legislation adds.
“This bill recognizes the importance of sibling relationships while recognizing the relationship a child develops with their caregivers,” Brodeur said. “Additionally, this bill ensures that when placement changes are necessary, they will be done with a thoughtful approach to determine what is in the best interest in the child.”
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.
If passed, the bill would also require “FACE sheets” in children’s files detailing the web of relationships with adults and other foster care children they have made throughout their time in foster care.
“It’ll be easier for us to determine exactly what’s happened with that child and where they are today,” Brodeur said.
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. After the vote, his office sent a statement saying the bill would create a thoughtful framework to help children in the welfare system.
“All too often people with the best of intentions get so caught up in finding the perfect situation for a child that we pass up a really good home where the child will be loved and cared for,” Simpson said. “Government is a horrible parent, and childhood is way too short for any kid to spend years waiting in limbo bouncing from home to home. We know the earlier in life we can give a child a permanent living situation, the better off that child will be in the long run.”
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.