(1) LEGISLATIVE FINDINGS AND INTENT.—
(a) The Legislature recognizes that most children and young adults are resilient and, with adequate support, can expect to be successful as independent adults. Not unlike many young adults, some young adults who have lived in foster care need additional support and resources for a period of time after reaching 18 years of age.
(b) The Legislature finds that while it is important to provide young adults who have lived in foster care with education and independent living skills, there is also a need to focus more broadly on creating and preserving family relationships so that young adults have a permanent connection with at least one committed adult who provides a safe and stable parenting relationship.
(c) It is the intent of the Legislature that young adults who choose to participate in the program receive the skills, education, and support necessary to become self-sufficient and leave foster care with a lifelong connection to a supportive adult through the Road-to-Independence Program, either through postsecondary education services and support, as provided in subsection (2), or aftercare services.
(2) POSTSECONDARY EDUCATION SERVICES AND SUPPORT.— (a) A young adult is eligible for services and support under this subsection if he or she:
1. Was living in licensed care on his or her 18th birthday or is currently living in licensed care; or was at least 16 years of age and was adopted from foster care or placed with a court-approved dependency guardian after spending at least 6 months in licensed care within the 12 months immediately preceding such placement or adoption;
2. Spent at least 6 months in licensed care before reaching his or her 18th birthday;
4. Has been admitted for enrollment as a full-time student or its equivalent in an eligible postsecondary educational institution as provided in s. 1009.533. For purposes of this section, the term “full-time” means 9 credit hours or the vocational school equivalent. A student may enroll part-time if he or she has a recognized disability or is faced with another challenge or circumstance that would prevent full-time attendance. A student needing to enroll part-time for any reason other than having a recognized disability must get approval from his or her academic advisor;
5. Has reached 18 years of age but is not yet 23 years of age;
6. Has applied, with assistance from the young adult’s caregiver and the community-based lead agency, for any other grants and scholarships for which he or she may qualify;
7. Submitted a Free Application for Federal Student Aid which is complete and error free; and
8. Signed an agreement to allow the department and the community-based care lead agency access to school records.
(b) The amount of the financial assistance shall be as follows: 1. For a young adult who does not remain in foster care and is attending a postsecondary school as provided in s. 1009.533, the amount is $1,256 monthly. 2. For a young adult who remains in foster care, is attending a postsecondary school, as provided in s. 1009.533, and continues to reside in a licensed foster home, the amount is the established room and board rate for foster parents. This takes the place of the payment provided for in s. 409.145(4). 3. For a young adult who remains in foster care, but temporarily resides away from a licensed foster home for purposes of attending a postsecondary school as provided in s. 1009.533, the amount is $1,256 monthly. This takes the place of the payment provided for in s. 409.145(4). 4. For a young adult who remains in foster care, is attending a postsecondary school as provided in s. 1009.533, and continues to reside in a licensed group home, the amount is negotiated between the community-based care lead agency and the licensed group home provider. 5. For a young adult who remains in foster care, but temporarily resides away from a licensed group home for purposes of attending a postsecondary school as provided in s. 1009.533, the amount is $1,256 monthly. This takes the place of a negotiated room and board rate.
6. The amount of the award may be disregarded for purposes of determining the eligibility for, or the amount of, any other federal or federally supported assistance.
7. A young adult is eligible to receive financial assistance during the months when enrolled in a postsecondary educational institution.
(c) Payment of financial assistance for a young adult who: 1. Has chosen not to remain in foster care and is attending a postsecondary school as provided in s. 1009.533, shall be made to the community-based care lead agency in order to secure housing and utilities, with the balance being paid directly to the young adult until such time the lead agency and the young adult determine that the young adult can successfully manage the full amount of the assistance. 2. Has remained in foster care under s. 39.6251 and who is attending postsecondary school as provided in s. 1009.533, shall be made directly to the foster parent or group home provider.
3. Community-based care lead agencies or other contracted providers are prohibited from charging a fee associated with administering the Road-to-Independence payments.
(d)1. The department must advertise the availability of the stipend and must provide notification of the criteria and application procedures for the stipend to children and young adults leaving, or who were formerly in, foster care; caregivers; case managers; guidance and family services counselors; principals or other relevant school administrators; and guardians ad litem.
2. If the award recipient transfers from one eligible institution to another and continues to meet eligibility requirements, the award shall be transferred with the recipient.
3. The department, or an agency under contract with the department, shall evaluate each Road-to-Independence award for renewal eligibility on an annual basis. In order to be eligible for a renewal award for the subsequent year, the young adult must:
a. Be enrolled for or have completed the number of hours, or the equivalent, to be considered a full-time student under subparagraph (a)4., unless the young adult qualifies for an exception under subparagraph (a)4.
b. Maintain standards of academic progress as defined by the education institution, except that if the young adult’s progress is insufficient to renew the award at any time during the eligibility period, the young adult may continue to be enrolled for additional terms while attempting to restore eligibility as long as progress towards the required level is maintained.
4. Funds may be terminated during the interim between an award and the evaluation for a renewal award if the department, or an agency under contract with the department, determines that the award recipient is no longer enrolled in an educational institution as described in subparagraph (a)4. or is no longer a resident of this state.
5. The department, or an agency under contract with the department, shall notify a recipient who is terminated and inform the recipient of his or her right to appeal.
6. An award recipient who does not qualify for a renewal award or who chooses not to renew the award may apply for reinstatement. An application for reinstatement must be made before the young adult reaches 23 years of age. In order to be eligible for reinstatement, the young adult must meet the eligibility criteria and the criteria for award renewal for the program.
(3) AFTERCARE SERVICES.— (a) Aftercare services are available to a young adult who has reached 18 years of age but is not yet 23 years of age and is:
1. Not in foster care.
2. Temporarily not receiving financial assistance under subsection (2) to pursue postsecondary education.
(b) Aftercare services include, but are not limited to, the following:
1. Mentoring and tutoring.
2. Mental health services and substance abuse counseling.
3. Life skills classes, including credit management and preventive health activities.
4. Parenting classes.
5. Job and career skills training.
6. Counselor consultations.
7. Temporary financial assistance for necessities, including, but not limited to, education supplies, transportation expenses, security deposits for rent and utilities, furnishings, household goods, and other basic living expenses.
8. Financial literacy skills training.
The specific services to be provided under this paragraph shall be determined by an assessment of the young adult and may be provided by the community-based care provider or through referrals in the community.
(c) Temporary assistance provided to prevent homelessness shall be provided as expeditiously as possible and within the limitations defined by the department.
(4) APPEALS PROCESS.—
(a) The department shall have a procedure by which a young adult may appeal the department’s refusal to provide Road-to-Independence Program services or support, or the termination of such services or support if funds for such services or support are available.
(b) The appeal procedure must be readily accessible to young adults, must provide for timely decisions, and must provide for an appeal to the department. The decision of the department constitutes final agency action and is reviewable by the court as provided in s. 120.68. (5) PORTABILITY.—The services provided under this section are portable across county lines and between lead agencies. (a) The service needs that are identified in the original or updated transition plan, pursuant to s. 39.6035, shall be provided by the lead agency where the young adult is currently residing but shall be funded by the lead agency who initiated the transition plan.
(b) The lead agency with primary case management responsibilities shall provide maintenance payments, case planning, including a written description of all services that will assist a child 16 years of age or older in preparing for the transition from care to independence, as well as regular case reviews that conform with all federal scheduling and content requirements, for all children in foster care who are placed or visiting out-of-state.
(6) ACCOUNTABILITY.—The department shall develop outcome measures for the program and other performance measures in order to maintain oversight of the program. No later than January 31 of each year, the department shall prepare a report on the outcome measures and the department’s oversight activities and submit the report to the President of the Senate, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, and the committees with jurisdiction over issues relating to children and families in the Senate and the House of Representatives. The report must include:
(a) An analysis of performance on the outcome measures developed under this section reported for each community-based care lead agency and compared with the performance of the department on the same measures.
(b) A description of the department’s oversight of the program, including, by lead agency, any programmatic or fiscal deficiencies found, corrective actions required, and current status of compliance.
(c) Any rules adopted or proposed under this section since the last report. For the purposes of the first report, any rules adopted or proposed under this section must be included.
(7) INDEPENDENT LIVING SERVICES ADVISORY COUNCIL.—The secretary shall establish the Independent Living Services Advisory Council for the purpose of reviewing and making recommendations concerning the implementation and operation of the provisions of 3s. 39.6015 and the Road-to-Independence Program. The advisory council shall function as specified in this subsection until the Legislature determines that the advisory council can no longer provide a valuable contribution to the department’s efforts to achieve the goals of the services designed to enable a young adult to live independently.
(a) The advisory council shall assess the implementation and operation of the Road-to-Independence Program and advise the department on actions that would improve the ability of these Road-to-Independence Program services to meet the established goals. The advisory council shall keep the department informed of problems being experienced with the services, barriers to the effective and efficient integration of services and support across systems, and successes that the system of services has achieved. The department shall consider, but is not required to implement, the recommendations of the advisory council.
(b) The advisory council shall report to the secretary on the status of the implementation of the Road-to-Independence Program, efforts to publicize the availability of the Road-to-Independence Program, the success of the services, problems identified, recommendations for department or legislative action, and the department’s implementation of the recommendations contained in the Independent Living Services Integration Workgroup Report submitted to the appropriate substantive committees of the Legislature by December 31, 2013. The department shall submit a report by December 31 of each year to the Governor, the President of the Senate, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives which includes a summary of the factors reported on by the council and identifies the recommendations of the advisory council and either describes the department’s actions to implement the recommendations or provides the department’s rationale for not implementing the recommendations.
(c) Members of the advisory council shall be appointed by the secretary of the department. The membership of the advisory council must include, at a minimum, representatives from the headquarters and regional offices of the Department of Children and Families, community-based care lead agencies, the Department of Juvenile Justice, the Department of Economic Opportunity, the Department of Education, the Agency for Health Care Administration, the State Youth Advisory Board, Workforce Florida, Inc., the Statewide Guardian Ad Litem Office, foster parents, recipients of services and funding through the Road-to-Independence Program, and advocates for children in care. The secretary shall determine the length of the term to be served by each member appointed to the advisory council, which may not exceed 4 years.
(d) The department shall provide administrative support to the Independent Living Services Advisory Council to accomplish its assigned tasks. The advisory council shall be afforded access to all appropriate data from the department, each community-based care lead agency, and other relevant agencies in order to accomplish the tasks set forth in this section. The data collected may not include any information that would identify a specific child or young adult.
(e) The advisory council report required under paragraph (b) must include an analysis of the system of independent living transition services for young adults who reach 18 years of age while in foster care before completing high school or its equivalent and recommendations for department or legislative action. The council shall assess and report on the most effective method of assisting these young adults to complete high school or its equivalent by examining the practices of other states.
(8) PERSONAL PROPERTY.—Property acquired on behalf of a young adult in this program shall become the personal property of the young adult and is not subject to the requirements of chapter 273 relating to state-owned tangible personal property. Such property continues to be subject to applicable federal laws.
(9) MEDICAL ASSISTANCE FOR YOUNG ADULTS FORMERLY IN CARE.—The department or community-based care lead agency shall document that eligible young adults are enrolled in Medicaid under s. 409.903(4).
(10) RULEMAKING.—The department shall adopt rules to administer this section.
A. As amended by s. 39, ch. 2013-35, and amended and substantially reworded by s. 8, ch. 2013-178. Former paragraph (3)(a) and subsection (10) were also amended by s. 4, ch. 2013-21, without reference to the substantial rewording of the section by s. 8, ch. 2013-178. As amended by s. 4, ch. 2013-21, only, paragraph (3)(a) and subsection (10) read:
(a) It is the intent of the Legislature for the Department of Children and Families to assist older children in foster care and young adults who exit foster care at age 18 in making the transition to independent living and self-sufficiency as adults. The department shall provide such children and young adults with opportunities to participate in life skills activities in their foster families and communities which are reasonable and appropriate for their respective ages or for any special needs they may have and shall provide them with services to build life skills and increase their ability to live independently and become self-sufficient. To support the provision of opportunities for participation in age-appropriate life skills activities, the department shall:
1. Develop a list of age-appropriate activities and responsibilities to be offered to all children involved in independent living transition services and their foster parents.
2. Provide training for staff and foster parents to address the issues of older children in foster care in transitioning to adulthood, which shall include information on high school completion, grant applications, vocational school opportunities, supporting education and employment opportunities, and opportunities to participate in appropriate daily activities.
3. Establish the authority of foster parents, family foster homes, residential child-caring agencies, or other authorized caregivers to approve participation in age-appropriate activities of children in their care according to a reasonable and prudent parent standard. Foster parents, family foster homes, residential child-caring agencies, or other authorized caregivers employing the reasonable and prudent parent standard in their decisionmaking shall not be held responsible under administrative rules or laws pertaining to state licensure or have their licensure status in any manner jeopardized as a result of the actions of a child engaged in the approved age-appropriate activities. Goals and objectives for participation in extracurricular, enrichment, and social activities, as well as specific information on the child’s progress toward meeting those objectives, shall be incorporated into the agency’s written judicial social study report and shall be reviewed by the court at each hearing conducted pursuant to s. 39.701.
4. Provide opportunities for older children in foster care to interact with mentors.
5. Develop and implement procedures for older children to directly access and manage the personal allowance they receive from the department in order to learn responsibility and participate in age-appropriate life skills activities to the extent feasible.
6. Make a good faith effort to fully explain, prior to execution of any signature, if required, any document, report, form, or other record, whether written or electronic, presented to a child or young adult pursuant to this chapter and allow for the recipient to ask any appropriate questions necessary to fully understand the document. It shall be the responsibility of the person presenting the document to the child or young adult to comply with this subparagraph.
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(10) RULEMAKING.—The department shall adopt rules to administer this section. The rules must provide caregivers with as much flexibility as possible to enable the children in their care to participate in normal life experiences and must reflect the considerations listed in s. 39.4091(3)(b) in connection with the reasonable and prudent parent standard established in that section. The department shall engage in appropriate planning to prevent, to the extent possible, a reduction in awards after issuance. The department shall adopt rules to govern the payments and conditions related to payments for services to youth or young adults provided under this section.
B. Section 12, ch. 2013-178, provides that “[e]ffective January 1, 2014, a child or young adult who is a participant in the program shall transfer to the program services provided in this act, and his or her monthly stipend may not be reduced, the method of payment of the monthly stipend may not be changed, and the young adult may not be required to change his or her living arrangement. These conditions shall remain in effect for a child or young adult until he or she ceases to meet the eligibility requirements under which he or she entered the Road-to-Independence Program. A child or young adult applying or reapplying for the Road-to-Independence Program on or after January 1, 2014, may apply for program services only as provided in this act.”