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Florida Legislature Appropriates $323,000 for Medically Fragile Foster Kids, Earns Thanks from Attorneys, Advocates

May 29th, 2013   No Comments   Advocacy, Foster Care, Funding

Advocates, guardians and attorneys for Florida’s at-risk youth are commending the Florida Legislature for approving more than $300,000 to provide legal counsel and representation to the state’s medically fragile foster children. Appropriation 744, as part of Senate Bill 1500, provides $323,000 in recurring general revenue funds for the Justice Administrative Commission to contract with attorneys selected by the Guardian ad Litem Program to represent dependent, foster children with disabilities in, or being considered for placement in, skilled nursing facilities.

UPDATE: The news was covered in a Daily Business Review story.

The need for such representation for medically fragile foster children with no parents or legal guardians has never been greater. In the past year, children in nursing homes and private residences have seen funding for vital nursing care cut. Without legal representation, it is likely these children will spend their childhood in nursing homes without any chance of living with a family, said Howard Talenfeld, president of Florida’s Children First, the state’s premier advocacy organization for foster children and at-risk youth.

“It’s been a crisis situation for children and their families, especially foster children, who have suffered significant cuts in the number of hours that skilled, private-duty nursing care is being provided,” he said. “We acknowledge the Florida Legislature for recognizing how important this money is. It represents an important step in securing attorneys who will represent these children and helping ensure they have a better chance of getting the medical care and families they desperately need.”

The need for such legal representation has been supported by the Florida Bar for more than a decade. As former chair of the Bar’s Legal Needs of Children Committee, Talenfeld and his committee helped draft proposed legislation that would allow attorneys to represent certain groups of foster children who are stuck in care. On June 12, Florida’s Children First will hold an event in Miami honoring the work of the Legal Needs of Children Commission, which was formed in 1999 by Florida Bar President, Edith Osman, which was originally responsible for pursuing representation of vulnerable children.

Children provided appropriate, skilled medical care often can live in the community at a lower cost than if they were institutionalized, said Christina Spudeas, executive director of Florida’s Children First. Attorneys and their experts, both covered by the appropriation, can help better present the child’s or foster family’s case in administrative hearings and appeals, she said.

“Many situations can be resolved informally after an attorney gets involved and helps present the information demonstrating the need for in-home services,” she said. “While DCF has been working hard to help these children move in to the community, DCF cannot represent the children in proceedings against the Agency for Health Care Administration. This appropriation will help pay for the attorneys who can.”

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