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When is a Florida Foster Child Not a Foster Child? When Disabled and Needing Care

When is a disabled foster child not really a foster child? Apparently, Florida’s disabled foster “children” aged 18 to 22 are not foster kids in the eyes of the state Agency for Persons with Disabilities, whose officials believe the Department of Children and Families or Medicaid are responsible for paying for the extended care of disabled individuals in foster care between ages 18 and 22.

For advocates and attorneys who champion and represent foster kids who face potential abuse, personal injury and other harm, this is another issue of key importance, especially for those whose daily life is a caregiver’s struggle.

It was a situation the Florida Legislature thought it had resolved in 2013, when it passed a law ensuring disable foster persons were allowed to stay in state care until they reached age 22. The new law lacked one key element: Direction as to which agency would pay for the care.

In an effort to provide guidance, Sen. Nancy Detert (R-Venice) is pushing for a solution. She has discussed the issue with children’s advocates and service providers. It’s a critically important issue for Florida’s disabled foster persons.

Their care needs often are far beyond what a typical foster parent can provide. Specialized services are required. Sometimes, additional, professional care is required in the home to augment what foster parents provide.

Yet, paying for that care and personnel can be expensive. Without guidance from the new law, the Agency for Persons with Disabilities (ADP) decided disabled young adults in foster care should be the responsibility of the Department of Children and Families.

Lawsuits are being considered.

“These transition years wouldn’t even be a discussion if APD fulfilled the statutory mandate to make kids in foster care the number-two priority and moved them all off the wait list when they were under 18,” Robin Rosenberg, deputy director of the state’s leading child advocacy group, Florida’s Children First, told News Service of Florida.

“(The First District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee) said that children who are abused, neglected or abandoned are not to be penalized just because they’re foster-care children and not receive the same type of services that all other children with disabilities would receive,” Paolo Annino, an attorney who heads the Children’s Advocacy Center at the Florida State University College of Law, is representing one disabled foster child, also told News Service of Florida.

This situation shouldn’t have to come to lawsuits. Yet, additional legislative guidance will be needed to identify the agency responsible for paying for this level of care. Rep. Detert deserves praise for taking on this important issue.

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