Scott signs foster bill

By Lloyd Dunkelberger, Herald-Tribune / Thursday, April 11, 2013

Foster children will be able to participate in more everyday activities with less intervention from the state child welfare system under a bill signed into law Thursday by Gov. Rick Scott.

The measure (HB 215) will let “kids be kids,” Scott said at the signing ceremonies, while calling sponsors Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, and Rep. Ben Albritton, R-Wauchula, “champions for children.”

“This new law recognizes the importance of allowing children in foster care the ability to take part in everyday activities without the involvement of case managers, provider agencies or the court system,” Scott said.

Scott said the law will lift “burdensome regulations” that hindered the ability of foster children and their parents to participate in ordinary activities such as crossing a county line to go to a beach or taking an overnight trip with a sports team.

Under the law, which takes effect July 1, foster parents will be able to make those decisions using a “reasonable and prudent” parenting standard.

Detert, who has made improving foster care one of the priorities of her 13 years in the Legislature, said much of the impetus for the legislation came from the foster care children, including those who participate in Florida Youth SHINE, an advocacy group of current and former foster children.

“This bill is the result of wishes of the foster care kids themselves,” Detert said, while also giving credit to the Guardian ad Litem program, which advocates on behalf of children in the welfare system.

Detert said the goal of the legislation was to provide a more normal life for the 19,000 children in Florida’s foster-care system, including the 9,000 living with foster parents or in group homes.

“You don’t want to be a foster care kid. You just want to be a regular kid and this bill will help you do that,” Detert said.

Albritton, the House sponsor, said child advocates told him how the regulations “bubble-wrapped our kids in this veil of safety, not normalcy.”

“Today is the beginning of a new day,” Albritton said. “It’s the beginning of a new freedom and a new opportunity for kids to live their lives to the maximum like they’re supposed to do.”

David Wilkins, secretary of the Department of Children and Families, said the revamping the foster-care system has been a priority for the child welfare agency since Scott took office in 2011. He called the bill signing “momentous.”

Wilkins said the law recognizes “the importance that every child who is in care in our state needs to have all the opportunities that all the other Florida children have.”

Kim Hernandez, representing a group of foster and adoptive parents, said the law is the culmination of years of advocacy by the foster families. She called it the “normalcy bill.”

Hernandez, a Tampa parent who has been fostering children for some 13 years, said it was important not to make any distinctions among foster, adopted or birth children. “I love them as my own,” she said.

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Alexia Nechayev

FYS Events & Meeting Chair
(Palm Beach)

Hello, My name is Alexia Nechayev. I am 25 years old and I am an alumna of Florida International University where I received my B.A. in Psychology. My future career goal is to be a Lawyer. I was in care for about one year from age 17 to 18. Prior to entering care, I only knew about the negative stigma regarding foster care and while in care that narrative was unfortunately my experience.

In school I felt like I was on display because my status in care was broadcast to other students and in my placement behavior was leveraged for “privileges” that should be a natural right of all children. Because I did not know my rights I did not know that what I was experiencing was wrong. Today this is exactly why I advocate, because I don’t want this to be the same for other youth who are experiencing foster care.

This is my second year on the FYS Statewide Board and I’m happy to be the Events and Meetings Chair this year because my main goal through advocacy is to reach as many people as possible. My favorite thing as a board member is to see how comfortable members become while working together. The community needs to know that youth in foster care are real people, going through some of the hardest moments of their life and youth need to know that their voice is powerful. I believe that we have to speak up and bring these issues to people’s attention so that they do not forget us. Advocacy, education and consistency is the only way.

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