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National Adoption Month Highlights Need to Find Florida Foster Kids Permanent Homes

I recently met with a young lady, R.J., who came into the Florida child welfare system in Miami at the age of 3 as a healthy child. R.J. exited the system at the age of 18 with very serious mental illnesses.

Even more appalling is that R.J. has eight brothers and sisters who each came into the system at roughly the same ages. Each spent roughly the same amount of time in the system. None were ever adopted. Despite having juvenile court judges, a guardian ad litem and many caseworkers, these nine children have endured this horrific and unacceptable result.

They are not alone.

Almost half of Florida’s foster children, or 9,321, have been in out-of-home care more than a year, despite state or federal requirements for permanency in less than one year. A quarter (more than 5,000) have been in out-of-home care more than two years. More than 2,500 children have been without a family for longer than three years. Read this Florida Bar News story on The Legal Needs of Children panel’s report.

The emotional harm experienced by these children increases the longer they are in the system. The Florida Department of Children and Families has dramatically improved its rate of adoption under the leadership of Secretaries Bob Butterworth and George Sheldon. However, we need to do better.

They need advocates. They need attorneys. Yet, Florida is one of only a handful of states that does not provide lawyers to foster children. An eight-year pilot project in Palm Beach County has proven that with lawyers from Palm Beach Legal Aid, we were able to reduce the length of stay in care for foster children from 45 months to less than a year for those children who were adopted.

Florida must now adopt legislation that is being supported by Florida’s Children First to assigned lawyers to foster children in critical categories.

During National Adoption Month and throughout the year, Florida must vigilantly find more adoptive parents for these children so they can remain the healthy children R.J. was, instead of becoming the victim of mental illness she became.

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