On Sunday, January 6, 2013, Florida Guardian ad Litem Program Executive Director Alan Abramowitz sent an email to volunteers, staff and supporters detailing new legislation filed to ensure that children in foster care may enjoy normal childhood activities.
You can read the text of Abramowitz's letter below and download a draft of Senate Bill 164, the Quality-Parenting for Children in Foster Care Act.
Volunteers, staff and supporters:
I am very happy to share with you a copy of Senate Bill 164, the "Quality-Parenting for Children in Foster Care Act." This bill, sponsored by Senator Nancy Detert of Venice, amends Chapters 39 and 409 and will codify the expectation that foster parents operate under a "reasonable and prudent parent" standard to make day-to-day decisions for their foster children. Representative Ben Albritton of Wauchula will be filing a companion bill in the House. If passed, this bill will take us a big step forward in promoting normalcy for children and youth in out-of-home care, and it echoes the voices of young people who long to be regular kids like their peers.
We expect to have good discussion about the bill in both Houses of the Florida Legislature. I will be calling on some of you who can come to Tallahassee to speak with legislative staff, members, and legislative committees over the next couple of months as the bill makes its way through the House and Senate. I hope you will lend your voice to the call for normalcy for foster children in whatever venue is most comfortable for you. There may be times when it comes up for a vote and we have an opportunity to testify as guardians ad litem that it is important for children.
Please let me know if you would be able to testify if given enough time to prepare to come up. The testimony could be telling a story of a child that did not have normalcy that you advocated for as a GAL or it could be just stating that you're a GAL for a number of years and support the bill. It is important to legislatures to hear from people they respect—such as GALs, our non-profits, GAL staff and other supporters.
In summary, Senate Bill 164:
- Recognizes the importance of normalizing the lives of children in out-of-home care;
- Empowers caregivers to approve or disapprove a child's participation in activities without prior approval of the Department of Children and Families (DCF), the caseworker or the courts;
- Establishes a "reasonable and prudent parent" standard of care for caregivers in determining whether to allow a child in out-of-home care to participate in extracurricular, enrichment, or social activities;
- Requires DCF and community based care lead agencies to verify that their policies are consistent with this law;
- Limits liability for caregivers who apply the reasonable and prudent parent standard;
- Requires DCF to adopt rules to implement the bill;
- Resolves a long-standing concern over return of children to the offending parent after the parent has completed their case plan. The standard for reunification is changed from "endangerment" to "best interest of the child;"
- Eliminates the requirement for a "normalcy plan" and quarterly updates; and
- Incorporates goals and objectives for participation in extracurricular, enrichment and social activities into the judicial social study report and requires review of such provisions at each judicial review.