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Archive for the ‘Legislative & Regulatory Issues’ Category

Recent Updates to the Roles and Duties of Guardian ad Litems in Illinois

A guardian ad litem (GAL) is an important advocate for children who may be the victims of child abuse or child neglect.

With the passing of House Bill 1555, the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act (the statute currently governing the roles and duties) has been amended to prevent trial surprises and ensure transparency.   Among the changes are provisions requiring a written report not less than 30 days before final hearing or trial, allowing the GAL to propose an allocation order in addition to the report, and admission of the report into evidence without foundation.  The bill also grants GALs discretionary powers including presence in all proceedings, issuing subpoenas for records and filing pleadings.  Read more here.


Bill Reforming Sentencing for Victims of Child Sex Trafficking by Considering Child’s Involvement in Welfare System

Illinois’ General Assembly recently passed legislation that aims to reform criminal sentencing for minors, particularly those who are victims of child sex trafficking.  House Bill 3414 adds to the factors that judges must consider when sentencing a child found guilty of a crime.  Judges will now be required to consider a child’s involvement in the child welfare system, whether they have a history of domestic abuse or child-on-child sexual abuse, and the results of any mental health evaluations the child has undergone.  Sadly, many of these children are victims of sexual abuse or they are neglected disabled children.


State Senator’s Legislation Reinforcing DCFS’ Permanency Goals to Protect Child Welfare Passes the Senate

Recently introduced House Bill 3705 amends the Illinois’ Children and Family Services Act to reinforce the Illinois Department of Child and Family Services’ (DCFS) duty to children in foster care as well as its responsibility for placing youth in permanent family homes through guardianship or adoption (as opposed to adoptive homes) when restoration to the biological family is not safe, possible or otherwise appropriate. Proper placements are crucial in preventing foster child abuse, child sexual abuse, and child neglect.


South Florida Mother Fights for Greyson’s Law After the Tragic and Preventable Murder of Her 4-Year-Old Son

After living a parent’s worst nightmare for six months, Ali Kessler, along with an army of Family Court advocates and local politicians, finally received news that Greyson’s Law was filed in the state of Florida. Kessler has been fighting for legislation that would allow judges to remove a child from a home over concerns that one parent is threatening or abusing the other. Kessler said to MSNBC, “I have to fight for my son who can’t fight for himself.”


Florida Bar President Dori Foster-Morales Appoints Children’s Rights Lawyer Howard Talenfeld Chair of Legal Needs of Children Committee

Howard M. Talenfeld, a respected children’s rights attorney and Business Unit Leader of Justice for Kids, a division of Kelley Kronenberg, has been named Chair of The Florida Bar Legal Needs of Children Committee, as appointed by Bar President Dori Foster-Morales. This is Talenfeld’s second appointment as Committee Chair, having served in the role from 2009-2010.

The Legal Needs of Children Committee was established to find ways to implement the 2002 recommendations of The Florida Bar Commission on the Legal Needs of Children. The committee monitors and has informed the legislative process where the legal needs of children are concerned.


The Florida Legislature Shines a Light to Stem Human Trafficking in Florida

Child advocates across Florida applaud the 2019 Florida Legislature for passing significant legislation that aids in the fight to prevent human trafficking. Sponsored  by Sen. Lauren Book and Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen, the law would shine a bright light on the places where these heinous crimes are committed – many of which, sadly, could have been prevented.

This anti-human trafficking bill, HB 851, requires educating the employees of hotels, massage parlors, and adult theaters on how to spot the signs of trafficking and common practices. It calls for those employees who see evidence of these crimes to report suspicious activity to the confidential National Human Trafficking Hotline (888-373-7888).The law also reclassifies strip clubs, that employ underage victims who commonly come from the foster care system and overseas, only to become trapped by trafficking rings, as “adult theaters”.


Governor Scott Signs $5 Million Claims Bill for Child Sexually Abused by Foster Boy Living in the Home

On Friday, March 23, Governor Rick Scott signed CS/HB 6509, a claims bill that directs the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) to pay more than $5 million awarded by a Florida jury to C.M.H., a victim of sexual abuse by a child in foster care. This marks the largest known recovery in Florida for one child who was emotionally and sexually abused against a governmental defendant, DCF. Children’s rights attorney and Talenfeld Law Founder Howard Talenfeld served as co-counsel for C.M.H.

The bill is the result of a verdict and judgment against DCF on behalf of C.M.H., who was sexually assaulted at age nine by an 11-year-old foster child (“J.W.”) that DCF had placed at the home without a safety plan.


Anti-Human Trafficking Bills Deserve to be Heard

The Legislature has only a few days to pass Anti-Human Trafficking Bills SB 1044 and HB 167 which would hold hotels and motels responsible if they turn a blind eye to traffickers.

Ask for a full vote on the House & Senate floors this session and protect Floridians from suffering like Lynn did! As to SB 1044, contact: President Joe Negron at negron.joe@flsenate.gov (850 487-5025);Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto benacquistolizbeth@flsenate.gov (850 487-5027); and as to (HB 167) contact Speaker Richard Corcoran richard.corcoran@myfloridahouse.gov, (850 717-5000) and Rep. Jose Oliva jose.oliva@myfloridahouse.gov (850 717-5110).

Please share my story and urge the Florida Legislature to pass SB 1044 and HB 167 to hold hotels and motels responsible for turning a blind eye to human trafficking #Lynnsstory #HumanTrafficking #Survivor

Posted by Lynn Doe on Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Broward Businesses and Children’s Rights Advocates Push Re-Authorization

The work of the Children’s Services Council of Broward County cannot be overstated. The organization oversees spending of some $60 million annually into county-wide programs that help children in need. Efforts include everything from after-school programs and family counseling to swimming lessons and other important services. According to a Sun-Sentinel article, such programs “help parents work easier, youth become productive and the business climate stronger.” In all about one in four Broward kids benefit.

It’s a role not lost on businesses throughout Broward County. The business community is gathering forces to ensure funding continues. Their efforts will come to a head on Nov. 4, when county voters will decide whether to re-authorize a property tax that funds the council.

Those who back the group are household names. JM Family Enterprises and Castle Group property management support a Yes vote, as does the Broward Workshop of county CEOs.

Such “front-end” services can help avoid foster care and juvenile detention for the county’s most vulnerable youth, said Howard Talenfeld, a leading children’s rights attorney and founding president of Florida’s Children First. The organization is the state’s premier children’s advocacy group. The result: families remain unified, kids stay in school, summer jobs are more common, and Broward’s children get the counseling they need, he said.

Vote Yes for re-authorization of the Children’s Services Council on Nov. 4. Success will prove beneficial to more than just the county’s businesses. Citizens throughout Broward will realize the positive results.

Hard Work Pays for Premier Florida Foster Child Advocacy Group

From Tallahassee to Main Street, Florida’s Children First enjoyed remarkable success over the past year in its mission to help the state’s vulnerable, abused and at-risk children. The organization and its supporters helped usher in several new laws and public interest efforts that together make life safer for Florida’s foster children and others. 

Among the initiatives, two bills the organization and its backers had proposed were made into law. They included the Counsel for Dependent Children with Special Needs (HB 561), which will help ensure legal counsel is provided to special-needs children in the state dependency system. The other was Juvenile Sentencing Reform (HB 7035), in which FCF served as part of a vital coalition of backers who helped advocate for the measure.

FCF also helped to get key language incorporated into important laws that were enacted this session. The language and bills included creation of a Website to Report Child Deaths or Neglect (SB 1666); Child-on-Child Sexual Assault (SB 1666); Services & Provision Tracking (SB 1666); and Accountability on Delivery of Services Through Community Alliance Boards (SB 1666).


Florida Department of Children and Families Adds New Data to Child Deaths Site

Florida child abuse attorneys and advocates are watching a move to boost transparency around the deaths of children known to the Florida Department of Children and Families to be at risk of harm. The agency has added to a new website five years of data regarding child abuse deaths.

The pubic site, which was mandated by the Florida Legislature in the wake of the deaths of almost 500 children over the past several years, is being updated each week. It includes new data on the fatalities children stemming from neglect, abuse or other harm.


New Law a Start, Now Florida Legislature, Agencies, Advocates Must Monitor Children’s Safety

With regard to The Herald’s series, Innocents Lost, about the 477 children who died while known by the Department of Children and Families to potentially be at risk, the cases all involved DCF’s knowledge from prior investigations of multiple red flags for children who would be at significant risk of future serious harm or death if left with their families.

In no system should children die at the expense of keeping families together, and this is where the Florida Legislature new enactment SB 1666 placed child safety as paramount. However, this law does not change federal mandate under the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980 for states to use reasonable efforts to preserve families where it can, without jeopardizing the lives of children.