Saturday, May 19, 2018
Politics

Foster care bill would give kids more freedom

TALLAHASSEE — Martin Gordon, 19, came to the Capitol to tell legislators his experiences in the foster care system hoping that his voice — and the voices of 26 other current and former foster children — would make a difference. On Wednesday, they got their answer.

The Florida Senate passed a bill 38-0 eliminating many of the restrictions that keep foster children from participating in normal activities, like a field trip, sleepover, sporting event, vacation or even a trip to the beach. The bill, HB 215, passed the House earlier this month and now heads to Gov. Rick Scott's desk.

Scott is expected to sign the measure.

When he does, there will be a "dramatic shift in the culture of the program," said David Wilkins, secretary of the Department of Children and Families. The bill, and another proposal that would extend foster care from age 18 to 21, are the department's two priorities this session, Wilkins said. "In essence, we in the state are willing to take on more risk, more liability and more media exposure all in the name of helping kids have the chance to have a normal life."

Of the state's nearly 19,000 kids in foster care, more than half are placed with relatives — while about 9,000 live in foster care homes or group homes. Sixty percent of foster children ages 13 to 17 live in group homes, according to the state.

Years of focusing on safety and concern about liability helped lead to the current situation, with background checks and fingerprinting required for a foster kid to go on an overnight school or sports trip or to stay at a friend's house.

New legislation would strip those hurdles away.

"We spent so much time writing rules to make these kids safe, that what we ended up doing is bubble-wrapping these kids," said Senate sponsor Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice. "They don't want to have 'foster kid' stamped on their forehead."

That's exactly what happened to Gordon, a student at Tallahassee Community College who had been in foster care at Boys Town North Florida.

"I had to have my friends' parents get fingerprinted in order to spend time with them," said Gordon, a member of the foster care advocacy group Florida Youth Shine. Friends stopped inviting him over, he told a Senate panel. "I felt like an outcast. I did not have a real high school life. I shouldn't have to say, 'I'm in foster care.' They should just see me as a normal kid."

There's a "big label on these kids everywhere they go," said Christina Spudeas, executive director of Florida's Children First, the umbrella organization for Florida Youth Shine.

And it's not only teens who are impacted, said Miami foster mom Trudy Petkovich. "We want our younger children to be able to go to Chuck E. Cheese with their best friend's family." Foster care parents, she said, "can make informed decisions for their children just as they would their own birth or adoptive children."

The bill, which was sponsored in the House by Rep. Ben Albritton, R-Wauchula, allows licensed caregivers to make decisions based on the standard of what a "reasonable and prudent parent" would do.

The role of foster parents could expand further if another piece of legislation passes the Legislature.

Under the current system, foster care children "age out" at 18, even if they're still in school. The state provides money for former foster children taking classes — $1,256 a month until they're 23 — but children lose a lifeline to a family.

A bill being considered in the House and Senate, HB 1315 and SB 1036, would give foster children additional options.

They could leave foster care at 18 and receive no financial help, except for some transition money, from the state. They could decide to stay in their foster care home until they turn 21 (foster care parents would continue to receive payment, with a slight increase, for that child). Or the teens could leave foster care, take the money and enroll in school.

Shamane Kirkland, a 17-year-old sophomore at Western High School in Davie, will be a junior when she "ages out," and she says she's not ready to leave.

"When I turn 18, I'm going to still need my foster mom to help me with my homework, help me get up for school and, not only that, help me keep my mind on finishing school and going to college," she said.

The cost to the state is expected to remain the same: $49 million.

Children who leave their foster home would also be allowed to come back, provided they're in school.

"Your doors are still open for your child to come home," D'atra Franklin, 23 and a former foster care youth, told a House panel. "Aren't we your children, too?"

Rochelle Koff can be reached at (850) 224-7286 or [email protected]

Comments
China offers to buy more US products to reduce trade imbalance

China offers to buy more US products to reduce trade imbalance

WASHINGTON - China offered to boost its annual purchases of U.S. products by "at least $200 billion" Friday as two days of talks aimed at averting an open breach between the two countries ended in Washington, a top White House adviser said.Larry Kudl...
Updated: 12 hours ago
Hillsborough candidate falsified contract for fund-raising gospel concert, lawsuit says

Hillsborough candidate falsified contract for fund-raising gospel concert, lawsuit says

TAMPA — A concert organizer is accusing Hillsborough County Commission candidate Elvis Piggott of falsifying a contract and prompting the headline act to pull out of a gospel show.In a lawsuit filed in Hillsborough Circuit Court, Corey Curry claims h...
Published: 05/18/18
Gina Haspel confirmed as CIA chief despite scrutiny of her role in interrogation program

Gina Haspel confirmed as CIA chief despite scrutiny of her role in interrogation program

WASHINGTON - The Senate voted Thursday to confirm Gina Haspel as the next CIA director after several Democrats were persuaded to support her despite lingering concerns about her role in the brutal interrogation of suspected terrorists captured after ...
Published: 05/17/18
GOP pushes for speedy confirmation vote for CIA nominee

GOP pushes for speedy confirmation vote for CIA nominee

WASHINGTON — Republicans are pushing for a speedy confirmation vote as early as Thursday after the Senate intelligence committee endorsed President Donald Trump’s CIA nominee Gina Haspel to lead the spy agency. But opponents concerned about Haspel’s ...
Published: 05/16/18
Gina Haspel, Trump’s pick to lead CIA, wins support of Senate Intelligence Committee

Gina Haspel, Trump’s pick to lead CIA, wins support of Senate Intelligence Committee

WASHINGTON - The Senate Intelligence Committee moved Wednesday to recommend Gina Haspel for CIA director, setting up a floor vote that her opponents say will signal to the world whether the United States condemns or condones torture.The committee vot...
Published: 05/16/18
Carlton: Time for Hillsborough’s Uncle Tom Road to go — but artfully.

Carlton: Time for Hillsborough’s Uncle Tom Road to go — but artfully.

In Hillsborough County — where one of the world’s largest Confederate flags still flies near a busy interstate — you may not be surprised to learn there’s an Uncle Tom Road.The name is a flash point and a slur, shorthand for a black person who will d...
Published: 05/16/18
Clearwater Vice Mayor Doreen Caudell drops out of Pinellas Commission race

Clearwater Vice Mayor Doreen Caudell drops out of Pinellas Commission race

With six months to go before the Nov. 6 election, Clearwater Vice Mayor Doreen Caudell on Monday dropped her bid against Pinellas County Commissioner Pat Gerard for the at-large District 2 seat.Caudell said she decided she’d better be better suited f...
Published: 05/14/18
Romano: Hey Gov. Scott, could you hire me, too?

Romano: Hey Gov. Scott, could you hire me, too?

To: The Honorable Gov. Rick ScottDear Governor,It has come to my attention that your administration has recently made some, dare I say, innovative hires for important government positions in the months before you leave office.At the risk of sounding ...
Published: 05/14/18
‘Not a racially motivated issue’: N.C. mayor defends violent arrest of black man at Waffle House

‘Not a racially motivated issue’: N.C. mayor defends violent arrest of black man at Waffle House

The mayor of the North Carolina town where a 22-year-old black man’s violent arrest in a Waffle House has drawn wide scrutiny and prompted an internal investigation defended the police in a video he posted Friday."This is not a racially motivated iss...
Published: 05/12/18
Pruitt’s dinner with cardinal accused of abuse was kept off public schedule

Pruitt’s dinner with cardinal accused of abuse was kept off public schedule

WASHINGTON — Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, dined last year in Rome with Cardinal George Pell, a prominent climate-science denialist and Vatican leader who was also facing sexual abuse allegations. The EPA lat...
Published: 05/11/18