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Archive for the ‘Legislative & Regulatory Issues’ Category

Child Abuse Attorney, Florida Senate Committee Address Issue of Children’s Deaths in ‘Porous’ Welfare System

Leading Florida child advocate and children’s rights attorney Howard Talenfeld addressed the Florida Senate Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee this week, as they sought to stem a year’s worth of damning news of dozens of children who died from abuse and neglect while under the watch of the Florida Department of Children and Families and its various community based care providers and private contractors.

HT at Senate HearingLater, the Florida Senate committee passed several proposals advocates and leaders hope will improve the quality and quantity of regulation over the state’s child welfare system. The goal, in part, is to improve what Senate President Don Gaetz called “a porous system,” according to the Miami Herald.

Addressing the wide-ranging areas in need of correction, Talenfeld spoke of the need to directs DCF to keep siblings together when placed into foster case, as well as tackling child-on-child sexual abuse, expanding child safety plans and extending 60-day case reviews.

“After 60 days, it’s over,” Talenfeld said. “There’s no one watching the children. There’s no one watching the family and someone is waiting for the next shoe to fall.”

Read the Miami Herald coverage here.

Florida Youth Shine: We Came, We Spoke, They Voted – Thank you to Florida’s Legislators

A note from Florida Youth Shine: Since 2010, Florida Youth Shine has been working with on bills that would ensure normalcy while in care and that would extend foster care to 21. As a part of our outreach, you all have come to the Capitol time after time to share your stories during meetings with legislators, for conversations with Senate staff, and to testify countless times before House and Senate committees.

This year, in partnership with the Guardian ad Litem program, your hard work paid off during the 2013 legislative session when “The Quality Parenting Act” and the “Nancy C. Detert Common Sense and Compassion Independent Living Act” were passed in both the House and Senate. Congratulations to all of our members of Florida Youth SHINE who have shared their story and their voice over the last 3 years. You did it!

A special FYS thank you goes out to Senator Detert for sponsoring both of these wonderful bills in the Senate and to the entire Senate for co-sponsoring SB 1036 on Independent Living. We also send a heartfelt thank you to Representative Albritton for sponsoring The Quality Parenting Act, Representative Perry for sponsoring HB 1315 on Independent Living, and to so many of our Representatives who signed on as co-sponsors to both of these bills.

These substantial changes became law because of you. We came together to identify these challenges, we spoke to our legislators and shared our stories, and they voted in favor of a stronger support system for each of you. Congratulations for being part of Florida’s history!

Read FYS’s entire newsletter here.

Florida Lawmakers Reject Child Abuse Funds, Some Blame Health Care Law

When the federal government offered some $50 million in funds earmarked for child-abuse prevention, some would have jumped at the chance to use such money to help society’s most vulnerable: Abused and neglected children. Instead, Florida lawmakers rejected the grants, which were tied to the federal Affordable Health Care Act. The reason: Lawmakers don’t approve of the Obama administration’s health care reform package.

“This is just crazy,” Gwen Wurm, assistant professor of clinical pediatrics at the University of Miami, and a board member of the Our Kids foster care agency, told the Miami Herald. “This is the model for what you want in a prevention program. They have proven results.”

What’s more, the federal Race to the Top educational-reform effort is tied to Healthy Families’ child-abuse prevention program. This could result in the loss of a $100 million, four-year federal block grant. Read the entire story here.

Florida Department of Children and Families Hurries To Test New Welfare Applicants

Rushing to make good on Gov. Rick Scott’s and the Florida Legislature’s push to test applicants, Florida social service officials mapped out and sought final public input on broad policy guidelines as the state launches its drug testing of new applicants for welfare benefits.

According to NorthEscambia.com, “Following up on legislation passed by lawmakers only a few months ago to require applicants for temporary financial assistance to take drug tests, Department of Children and Families officials said formal procedures would not be ready until mid-July at the earliest but the agency would proceed nonetheless to administer the new law.”

The Website continued, “Among a litany of concerns from stakeholders, including Florida Legal Services and the ACLU, were questions of whether applicants who test positive for drugs would be immediately flagged by DCF and risk having their children removed from their custody.” Read the entire story here.

Foster Care Award Limits Stripped From Florida Senate Committee Medicaid Bill

A sweeping Florida Senate rewrite of the state Medicaid program, approved today by the health and human services budget committee will steer 2.9 million low-income Floridians into health coverage provided by managed care companies. Left behind: legal caps and liability limits for foster care providers.

According to the Palm Beach Post, “Trial lawyers and children’s advocates have been fighting the lawsuit limits, especially in the wake of the death of 10-year-old Nubia Barahona and near death of her twin brother, Victor, allegedly at the hands of their foster parents who are now facing murder charges.”

Read the entire story here.

Medicaid Reform Would Limit Families of Child Abuse, Injury, Death Right to Sue

A Medicaid-reform effort has lawmakers seeking to limit the rights of poor people to sue doctors, hospitals and child-welfare companies. “In the midst of expanding HMO-style management in Medicaid, the Legislature is passing a raft of proposals that limit the liability of Medicaid doctors, hospitals, nursing homes and private community-based care companies,” writes the Miami Herald.

Backers of the legislation include doctors and hospitals, the paper writes. Because they’re working for the state (which itself is shielded from lawsuits and some damage awards), the Medicaid providers and child-welfare companies should receive the same protections.

Opponents of the proposed legislation, including Democrats, child advocates and trial attorneys, claim such legislation will hold no one accountable in such cases like Nubia and Victor Barahona. The two Miami children allegedly were abused by their adoptive parents. Such legislation also would help the insurance industry, the paper wrote. Read the entire story here.

Florida Bar News: Attorneys recognized for their service to the Florida Bar

Outgoing Florida Bar President Jesse Diner recently recognized several attorneys for their dedication and service to the Florida Bar this past year.

Among the honorees included foster child and advocacy attorney Howard Talenfeld, for his work to build consensus on representation legislation as the Chair of the Florida Bar Legal Needs of Children Committee.

Read the entire story here

Florida Legislature: Time Limits Will End to File Sex-Abuse Cases

Despite concerns expressed by the Roman Catholic Church, the Florida Legislature this week approved eliminating a statute of limitations on child-related sex-abuse cases, according to a Miami Herald story.

The Florida House of Representatives and Senate unanimously approved the measure to eliminate time limits and statutes of limitations for filing criminal and civil cases for sex crimes involving children. The effort has met resistance for years from the Roman Catholic Church, the Herald wrote.

The legislation (HB525), while too late for some victims, makes it easier for future victims to file suit, seek courtroom justice, and potentially to recover damages. Gov. Charlie Crist has said he would sign such a bill into law.

“This is one of the major undone pieces in regard to the state addressing the needs of sexual-violence victims,” Terri Poore, a lobbyist for the Florida Council Against Sexual Violence, told the Herald. Read the entire story here.

Incest Report Raises Alarms About Florida DCF ‘Family Preservation’ Policy

Recent news of an incest case raised alarms about the Florida Department of Children and Families’ child welfare policy. In the case of a man accused of sexually abusing his teenage daughter, child welfare advocates questioned keeping families together in a practice called “family preservation” – even when circumstances suggest greater caution.

The goal of family preservation, when secondary to a child’s safety, is a critical and fundamental mission of Florida’s child protection system.

However, in pursuing this goal, other preventative and protective measures must be utilized. Among them…

– Calls to the abuse hotline must be fully investigated.

– Recommended protective services, whether voluntary or mandated, must be monitored.

An article by The Miami Herald’s Carol Marbin Miller on April 8 has once again reported a tragic story that evidences that Florida’s policy shift in this direction has yet to be accompanied by the necessary commitment to protect child safety with appropriate, mandatory supervision of protective service cases.

We hope that DCF’s task force that is now studying this issue moves quickly and decisively in this direction.

Bill Could Protect Florida Disabled, Seniors, Day Care Kids

News that the Florida House of Representatives today unanimously passed a bill requiring more strict background screenings for employees at its nursing homes and day care centers is an important step in protecting the state’s most vulnerable citizens.

Though the bill now goes to the Florida Senate, it has the support of Gov. Charlie Crist and foster and child care advocates statewide. He was quoted as saying, “Florida must continue making significant strides to ensure the safety of those individuals in our care.”

If signed into law, this bill will help shore up the state’s efforts — and reveal lawmakers’ commitment — to protect it’s vulnerable citizens. They are to be lauded for this effort.

According to the Sun-Sentinel, the bill would require “nationwide background checks and tighter restrictions on people with criminal histories… [the bill] was filed after a Sun Sentinel series in September found that Florida’s caregivers included convicted felons and career criminals with records for rape, child abuse and even murder.”

Read the entire story here…

Herald Column: Give Vulnerable, Foster Kids a Voice in the System

By Howard Talenfeld

The most significant way Florida can improve the lives of at-risk children is to provide each of them with legal representation, something currently missing from our judicial system.

This spring, Florida lawmakers are expected to take up consensus legislation crafted by the Florida Bar and Florida’s Children First that provides attorneys to children with critical needs and to protect the rights of all children in dependency proceedings.

The Children’s Legal Representation Act, as it’s called, also gives the courts the ability and authority to appoint state-provided counsel for children, whether they be paid or not. (more…)

Florida Children & Youth Cabinet Guides ‘Collaboration’ to Ensure Service Management & Delivery

The Florida’s Children and Youth Cabinet was created to ensure that the public policy of Florida relating to children and youth promotes interdepartmental collaboration and program implementation.

The goal is for services designed for children and youth to be planned, managed and delivered in a holistic and integrated manner to improve the self-sufficiency, safety, economic stability, health and quality of life of all children and youth in Florida.

Its vision is for “All children in Florida grow up safe, healthy, educated and prepared to meet their full potential.” Its next regular meeting will be held on December 1 at the University of Florida in Gainesville.

Learn more by clicking on any of the following links… (more…)