(1) LEGISLATIVE INTENT.—It is the intent of the Legislature to protect and promote each child’s right to the security and stability of a permanent family home. The Legislature intends to make adoption assistance, including financial aid, available to prospective adoptive parents to enable them to adopt a child in the state’s foster care system who, because of his or her needs, has proven difficult to place in an adoptive home.
(2) DEFINITIONS.—As used in this section, the term: (a) “Special needs child” means:
1. A child whose permanent custody has been awarded to the department or to a licensed child-placing agency;
2. A child who has established significant emotional ties with his or her foster parents or is not likely to be adopted because he or she is:
a. Eight years of age or older;
b. Developmentally disabled;
c. Physically or emotionally handicapped;
d. Of black or racially mixed parentage; or
e. A member of a sibling group of any age, provided two or more members of a sibling group remain together for purposes of adoption; and
3. Except when the child is being adopted by the child’s foster parents or relative caregivers, a child for whom a reasonable but unsuccessful effort has been made to place the child without providing a maintenance subsidy.
(b) “Adoption assistance” means financial assistance and services provided to a child and his or her adoptive family. Such assistance may include a maintenance subsidy, medical assistance, Medicaid assistance, and reimbursement of nonrecurring expenses associated with the legal adoption. The term also includes a tuition exemption at a postsecondary career program, community college, or state university.
(c) “Child within the child welfare system” or “child” means a special needs child and any other child who was removed from the child’s caregiver due to abuse or neglect and whose permanent custody has been awarded to the department or to a licensed child-placing agency.
(d) “Department” means the Department of Children and Families.
(e) “Licensed child-placing agency” has the same meaning as in s. 39.01.
(f) “Maintenance subsidy” means a monthly payment as provided in subsection (4).
(3) ADMINISTRATION OF PROGRAM.—
(a) The department shall establish and administer an adoption program for children to be carried out by the department or by contract with a licensed child-placing agency. The program shall attempt to increase the number of persons seeking to adopt children and the number of finalized adoptions and shall extend adoption assistance, when needed, to the adoptive parents of a child.
(b) The department shall collect and maintain the necessary data and records to evaluate the effectiveness of the program in encouraging and promoting the adoption of children.
1(4) ADOPTION ASSISTANCE.— (a) For purposes of administering payments under paragraph (d), the term:
1. “Child” means an individual who has not attained 21 years of age.
2. “Young adult” means an individual who has attained 18 years of age but who has not attained 21 years of age.
(b) A maintenance subsidy shall be granted only when all other resources available to a child have been thoroughly explored and it can be clearly established that this is the most acceptable plan for providing permanent placement for the child. The maintenance subsidy may not be used as a substitute for adoptive parent recruitment or as an inducement to adopt a child who might be placed without providing a subsidy. However, it shall be the policy of the department that no child be denied adoption if providing a maintenance subsidy would make adoption possible. The best interest of the child shall be the deciding factor in every case. This section does not prohibit foster parents from applying to adopt a child placed in their care. Foster parents or relative caregivers must be asked if they would adopt without a maintenance subsidy.
(c) The department shall provide adoption assistance to the adoptive parents, subject to specific appropriation, in the amount of $5,000 annually, paid on a monthly basis, for the support and maintenance of a child until the 18th birthday of such child or in an amount other than $5,000 annually as determined by the adoptive parents and the department and memorialized in a written agreement between the adoptive parents and the department. The agreement shall take into consideration the circumstances of the adoptive parents and the needs of the child being adopted. The amount of subsidy may be adjusted based upon changes in the needs of the child or circumstances of the adoptive parents. Changes shall not be made without the concurrence of the adoptive parents. However, in no case shall the amount of the monthly payment exceed the foster care maintenance payment that would have been paid during the same period if the child had been in a foster family home.
(d) Effective January 1, 2019, adoption assistance payments may be made for a child whose adoptive parent entered into an initial adoption assistance agreement after the child reached 16 years of age but before the child reached 18 years of age. Such payments may be made until the child reaches age 21 if the child is:
1. Completing secondary education or a program leading to an equivalent credential;
2. Enrolled in an institution that provides postsecondary or vocational education;
3. Participating in a program or activity designed to promote or eliminate barriers to employment;
4. Employed for at least 80 hours per month; or
5. Unable to participate in programs or activities listed in subparagraphs 1.-4. full time due to a physical, an intellectual, an emotional, or a psychiatric condition that limits participation. Any such barrier to participation must be supported by documentation in the child’s case file or school or medical records of a physical, an intellectual, an emotional, or a psychiatric condition that impairs the child’s ability to perform one or more life activities.
(e) A child or young adult receiving benefits through the adoption assistance program is not eligible to simultaneously receive relative caregiver benefits under s. 39.5085 or postsecondary education services and support under s. 409.1451.
(f) The department may provide adoption assistance to the adoptive parents, subject to specific appropriation, for medical assistance initiated after the adoption of the child for medical, surgical, hospital, and related services needed as a result of a physical or mental condition of the child which existed before the adoption and is not covered by Medicaid, Children’s Medical Services, or Children’s Mental Health Services. Such assistance may be initiated at any time but shall terminate on or before the child’s 18th birthday.
1(5) ELIGIBILITY FOR SERVICES.—
(a) As a condition of receiving adoption assistance under this section, the adoptive parents must have an approved adoption home study before the adoption is finalized and must enter into an adoption-assistance agreement with the department before the adoption is finalized which specifies the financial assistance and other services to be provided.
(b) A child who is handicapped at the time of adoption shall be eligible for services through the Children’s Medical Services network established under part I of chapter 391 if the child was eligible for such services prior to the adoption.
(6) WAIVER OF ADOPTION FEES.—The adoption fees shall be waived for all adoptive parents who adopt children in the custody of the department. Fees may be waived for families who adopt children in the custody of a licensed child-placing agency or who adopt children through independent adoptions, and who receive or may be eligible for maintenance subsidies through the department. Retroactive reimbursement of fees is not required for families who adopt children in the custody of licensed child-placing agencies.
(7) REIMBURSEMENT FOR EXPENSES.—The department is authorized to reimburse, retroactive to January 1, 1987, up to $1,000 in nonrecurring expenses related to the adoption of a child which have been incurred by adoptive parents. For purposes of this subsection, “nonrecurring expenses” means one-time expenses, such as attorney’s fees, court costs, birth certificate fees, travel expenses, agency fees, and physical examination fees.
(8) RULES.—The department shall adopt rules to administer this section.
A. Section 27, ch. 2018-10, amended subsections (4) and (5) “[i]n order to implement Specific Appropriation 326 of the 2018-2019 General Appropriations Act.”
B. Section 28, ch. 2018-10, provides that “[t]he amendments to ss. 39.6251 and 409.166, Florida Statutes, expire July 1, 2019, and the text of those sections shall revert to that in existence on June 30, 2018, except that any amendments to such text enacted other than by this act shall be preserved and continue to operate to the extent that such amendments are not dependent upon the portions of text which expire pursuant to this section.”
C. Section 89, ch. 2018-10, provides that “[i]f any other act passed during the 2018 Regular Session of the Legislature contains a provision that is substantively the same as a provision in this act, but that removes or is otherwise not subject to the future repeal applied to such provision by this act, the Legislature intends that the provision in the other act takes precedence and continues to operate, notwithstanding the future repeal provided by this act.” Section 21, ch. 2018-103, amended subsections (4) and (5) using language substantively similar to s. 27, ch. 2018-10, and did not include a repeal provision.