Legislation to prioritize finding permanent homes for Florida’s foster children is nearly through the committee process after clearing its penultimate House panel Monday.
The House Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee gave its unanimous approval to Rep. Demi Busatta Cabrera‘s bill (HB 1473), which aims to reduce trauma in foster children by reducing moves and requiring a thought-out process to transition children from one home to another.
In December, Florida had 22,000 kids in out-of-home care, in which children are removed from their home because of abuse or neglect. Some kids remain in foster care until they turn 18, meaning they enter adulthood without a permanent family.
“That’s 22,000 opportunities to help a child, 22,000 opportunities to give a child a fighting chance at the best life possible,” Busatta Cabrera said.
The Coral Gables Republican’s bill outlines the state’s preferred order for where a child should be housed, with a priority on 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.
The bill also stresses the importance of keeping siblings together to help reduce trauma.
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. Most of that information is already included in a child’s records, leading some lawmakers to question the redundancy or whether it would create a shortcut when a more detailed report is warranted.
The House’s proposed budget includes $18.3 million to carry out the bill’s mission.
Tampa Democratic Rep. Fentrice Driskell told the committee she nearly teared up while reading the bill ahead of the meeting.
“The idea that our state would be moving in that direction where we are so focused on providing trauma-centric care and minimizing trauma to our youth, it’s a very important message to me, making sure that there’s care through the foster system even once kids have graduated from school,” Driskell said.
Busatta Cabrera’s bill next heads to the House Health and Human Services Committee before the legislation is ready for a House vote.
Both the House and Senate versions would take effect in October.