Florida Senate - 2022                                     SB 792
       By Senator Ausley
       3-00735-22                                             2022792__
    1                        A bill to be entitled                      
    2         An act relating to children and young adults in out
    3         of-home care; amending s. 39.4085, F.S.; revising
    4         legislative findings and providing legislative intent;
    5         providing construction; specifying the rights of,
    6         rather than goals for, children and young adults in
    7         out-of-home care; providing the roles and
    8         responsibilities of the Department of Children and
    9         Families, community-based care lead agencies, and
   10         other agency staff; authorizing and encouraging
   11         district school boards to establish certain
   12         educational programs; requiring the department to
   13         adopt rules; creating s. 39.4088, F.S.; designating a
   14         children’s ombudsman as an autonomous entity within
   15         the department; providing responsibilities of the
   16         ombudsman; requiring the ombudsman to collect and post
   17         on the department’s website certain data; requiring
   18         the ombudsman, in consultation with the department and
   19         other specified entities and by a specified date, to
   20         develop standardized information explaining the rights
   21         of children and young adults placed in out-of-home
   22         care; requiring the department, community-based care
   23         lead agencies, and agency staff to use the information
   24         provided by the ombudsman in carrying out specified
   25         responsibilities; requiring the department to
   26         establish a statewide toll-free telephone number for
   27         the ombudsman; requiring the department to adopt
   28         rules; providing an effective date.
   30  Be It Enacted by the Legislature of the State of Florida:
   32         Section 1. Section 39.4085, Florida Statutes, is amended to
   33  read:
   34         (Substantial rewording of section. See
   35         s. 39.4085, F.S., for present text.)
   36         39.4085Foster Children’s Bill of Rights.—
   38         (a) The Legislature finds that the design and delivery of
   39  child welfare services should be directed by the principle that
   40  the health and safety of children, including freedom from abuse,
   41  abandonment, or neglect, is of paramount concern.
   42         (b)The Legislature also finds that emotional trauma,
   43  separation from family, frequent changes in placement, and
   44  frequent changes in school enrollment, as well as dependency
   45  upon the state to make decisions regarding current and future
   46  life options, may contribute to feelings of limited control over
   47  life circumstances in children and young adults in out-of-home
   48  care.
   49         (c) Therefore, it is the intent of the Legislature to
   50  empower these children and young adults by helping them become
   51  better informed of their rights so they can become stronger
   52  self-advocates.
   53         (2)CONSTRUCTION.—This section may not be used for any
   54  purpose in any civil or administrative action and does not
   55  expand or limit any rights or remedies provided under any other
   56  law.
   57         (3) BILL OF RIGHTS.—Except as otherwise provided in this
   58  chapter, the rights of a child or young adult placed in out-of
   59  home care are:
   60         (a) To live in a safe, healthful, and comfortable home
   61  where he or she is treated with respect and provided with
   62  healthy food, appropriate clothing, and adequate storage space
   63  for personal use and where the caregiver is aware of and
   64  understands the child’s or young adult’s history, needs, and
   65  risk factors and respects his or her preferences for attending
   66  religious services and activities.
   67         (b)To be free from physical, sexual, emotional, or other
   68  abuse or corporal punishment. This includes the child’s or young
   69  adult’s right to be placed away from other children or young
   70  adults who are known to pose a threat of harm.
   71         (c)To receive medical, dental, vision, and mental health
   72  services as needed; to be free of the administration of
   73  psychotropic medication or chemical substances unless the
   74  administration of such medication or substances is authorized by
   75  a parent or the court; and to be free from being confined in any
   76  room, building, or facility unless placed by court order in a
   77  residential treatment center.
   78         (d)To be able to have contact and visitation with his or
   79  her parents, other family members, and fictive kin and to be
   80  placed with his or her siblings or, if not placed with his or
   81  her siblings, to have frequent visitation and ongoing contact
   82  with his or her siblings, unless prohibited by court order; and
   83  to be provided with the location of and contact information for
   84  siblings and to have the court consider the appropriateness of
   85  continued communication with siblings who have left care.
   86         (e)To be able to contact the children’s ombudsman, as
   87  described in s. 39.4088, regarding violations of rights; to
   88  speak to the ombudsman confidentially; and to be free from
   89  threats or punishment for making complaints.
   90         (f)To maintain a bank account, to work, and to manage
   91  personal income, including any allowance, consistent with his or
   92  her age and developmental level, unless prohibited by the case
   93  plan, and to be informed about any funds being held in the
   94  master trust on behalf of the child or young adult.
   95         (g)To attend school and participate in extracurricular,
   96  cultural, and personal enrichment activities consistent with his
   97  or her age and developmental level and to have social contact
   98  with people outside of the foster care system, such as teachers,
   99  church members, mentors, and friends.
  100         (h) To attend all court hearings and address the court.
  101         (i)To have fair and equal access to all available
  102  services, placement, care, treatment, and benefits and to be
  103  free from discrimination on the basis of race, national origin,
  104  color, religion, sex, mental or physical disability, age, or
  105  pregnancy.
  106         (j)If he or she is 14 years of age or older or, if
  107  younger, is of an appropriate age and capacity, to participate
  108  in creating and reviewing his or her case plan and receive
  109  information about his or her out-of-home placement and case
  110  plan, including being told of changes to the plan, and to have
  111  the ability to object to provisions of the case plan; and, if he
  112  or she is 16 years of age or older, to provide assistance in
  113  developing a transition plan.
  114         (k)To participate in activities that will help develop the
  115  necessary life skills to make the transition to independent
  116  living and self-sufficiency as adults; and, for older youth, to
  117  be informed of available independent living services and
  118  community resources and how to apply for such services and
  119  access resources.
  120         (l) To be free from removal from an out-of-home placement
  121  by the department or a community-based care lead agency unless
  122  the caregiver becomes unable to care for the child, the child
  123  achieves permanency, or the move is otherwise in the child’s
  124  best interest and, if removed, to a transition under s. 39.4023
  125  which respects his or her relationships and personal belongings.
  126         (m) To have a guardian ad litem appointed to represent his
  127  or her best interests and, if appropriate, to have an attorney
  128  appointed to represent his or her legal interests.
  132         (a)The department shall operate with the understanding
  133  that the rights of children in out-of-home care are critical to
  134  their safety, permanency, and well-being. The department shall
  135  work with all stakeholders to help such children become
  136  knowledgeable about their rights.
  137         (b) The case manager or other agency staff shall provide
  138  verbal and written instructions to a child entering out-of-home
  139  care to educate the child on identifying and reporting abuse,
  140  abandonment, or neglect and shall explain and provide a copy of
  141  the Bill of Rights established in subsection (3). The verbal and
  142  written instructions and explanation must use words and phrasing
  143  that the child can understand and must occur in a manner that is
  144  most effective for that child. The written instructions and Bill
  145  of Rights are required only if the child is of a sufficient age
  146  and understanding to receive such instructions and rights. The
  147  case manager or other agency staff shall afford each child the
  148  opportunity to ask questions about his or her rights and how to
  149  identify and report abuse, abandonment, or neglect. The case
  150  manager or other agency staff shall document in court reports
  151  and case notes the date that such instructions and the Bill of
  152  Rights were provided to the child. The case manager or other
  153  agency staff must review the information with the child every 6
  154  months and upon every placement change until the child leaves
  155  shelter or foster care.
  156         (c)District school boards are authorized and encouraged to
  157  establish educational programs for students ages 5 through 18
  158  years relating to identifying and reporting abuse, abandonment,
  159  or neglect and the effects of such abuse, abandonment, or
  160  neglect on a child. The district school boards may provide such
  161  programs in conjunction with the youth mental health awareness
  162  and assistance training program required under s. 1012.584, any
  163  other mental health education program offered by the school
  164  district, or any of the educational instruction required under
  165  s. 1003.42(2).
  166         (5) RULEMAKING.The department shall adopt rules to
  167  implement this section.
  168         Section 2. Section 39.4088, Florida Statutes, is created to
  169  read:
  170         39.4088Children’s ombudsman.—The children’s ombudsman
  171  shall serve as an autonomous entity within the department for
  172  the purpose of providing children and young adults placed in
  173  out-of-home care with a means to resolve issues related to their
  174  care, placement, or services without fear of retribution. The
  175  ombudsman must be given access to any record of a state or local
  176  agency which is necessary to carry out his or her
  177  responsibilities and may meet or communicate with any child or
  178  young adult in the child or young adult’s placement.
  180  ombudsman shall:
  181         (a)Disseminate information on the rights of children and
  182  young adults in out-of-home care established under s. 39.4085
  183  and the services provided by the ombudsman.
  184         (b)Attempt to resolve complaints informally.
  185         (c)Conduct whatever investigation he or she determines is
  186  necessary to resolve a complaint.
  187         (d)Update the complainant on the progress of the
  188  investigation and notify the complainant of the final outcome.
  190  The ombudsman may not investigate, challenge, or overturn a
  191  court order or decision.
  192         (2) DATA COLLECTION.The ombudsman shall:
  193         (a)Document the number, source, origin, location, and
  194  nature of all complaints.
  195         (b)Compile all data collected over the course of the year,
  196  including, but not limited to, the number of contacts to the
  197  children’s ombudsman toll-free telephone number; the number of
  198  complaints made, including the type and source of those
  199  complaints; the number of investigations performed by the
  200  ombudsman; the trends and issues that arose in the course of
  201  investigating complaints; the number of referrals made; and the
  202  number of pending complaints.
  203         (c)Post the compiled data on the department’s website.
  205         (a) By January 1, 2023, the ombudsman, in consultation with
  206  the department, children’s advocacy and support groups, and
  207  children and young adults in, or persons previously in, out-of
  208  home care, shall develop standardized information explaining the
  209  rights granted under s. 39.4085. The information must be age
  210  appropriate, reviewed and updated by the ombudsman annually, and
  211  made available through a variety of formats.
  212         (b)The department, community-based care lead agencies, and
  213  other agency staff must use the information provided by the
  214  ombudsman to carry out their responsibilities to inform children
  215  and young adults in out-of-home care of their rights pursuant to
  216  the duties established under this section.
  217         (c)The department shall establish a toll-free telephone
  218  number for the children’s ombudsman and post the number on the
  219  homepage of the department’s website.
  220         (4) RULEMAKING.The department shall adopt rules to
  221  implement this section.
  222         Section 3. This act shall take effect October 1, 2022.