(1) It is the intent of the Legislature in enacting this section to:
(a) Provide for the establishment of procedures and protocols that serve to advance the continued safety of children by acknowledging the valued resource uniquely available through grandparents, relatives of children, and specified nonrelatives of children pursuant to subparagraph (2)(a)3.
(b) Recognize family relationships in which a grandparent or other relative is the head of a household that includes a child otherwise at risk of foster care placement.
(c) Enhance family preservation and stability by recognizing that most children in such placements with grandparents and other relatives do not need intensive supervision of the placement by the courts or by the department.
(d) Recognize that permanency in the best interests of the child can be achieved through a variety of permanency options, including permanent guardianship under s. 39.6221 if the guardian is a relative, by permanent placement with a fit and willing relative under s. 39.6231, by a relative, guardianship under chapter 744, or adoption, by providing additional placement options and incentives that will achieve permanency and stability for many children who are otherwise at risk of foster care placement because of abuse, abandonment, or neglect, but who may successfully be able to be placed by the dependency court in the care of such relatives.
(e) Reserve the limited casework and supervisory resources of the courts and the department for those cases in which children do not have the option for safe, stable care within the family.
(f) Recognize that a child may have a close relationship with a person who is not a blood relative or a relative by marriage and that such person should be eligible for financial assistance under this section if he or she is able and willing to care for the child and provide a safe, stable home environment.
(2)(a) The Department of Children and Families shall establish and operate the Relative Caregiver Program pursuant to eligibility guidelines established in this section as further implemented by rule of the department. The Relative Caregiver Program shall, within the limits of available funding, provide financial assistance to:
1. Relatives who are within the fifth degree by blood or marriage to the parent or stepparent of a child and who are caring full-time for that dependent child in the role of substitute parent as a result of a court’s determination of child abuse, neglect, or abandonment and subsequent placement with the relative under this chapter.
2. Relatives who are within the fifth degree by blood or marriage to the parent or stepparent of a child and who are caring full-time for that dependent child, and a dependent half-brother or half-sister of that dependent child, in the role of substitute parent as a result of a court’s determination of child abuse, neglect, or abandonment and subsequent placement with the relative under this chapter.
3. Nonrelatives who are willing to assume custody and care of a dependent child in the role of substitute parent as a result of a court’s determination of child abuse, neglect, or abandonment and subsequent placement with the nonrelative caregiver under this chapter. The court must find that a proposed placement under this subparagraph is in the best interest of the child.
The placement may be court-ordered temporary legal custody to the relative or nonrelative under protective supervision of the department pursuant to s. 39.521(1)(b)3., or court-ordered placement in the home of a relative or nonrelative as a permanency option under s. 39.6221 or s. 39.6231 or under former s. 39.622 if the placement was made before July 1, 2006. The Relative Caregiver Program shall offer financial assistance to caregivers who would be unable to serve in that capacity without the caregiver payment because of financial burden, thus exposing the child to the trauma of placement in a shelter or in foster care.
(b) Caregivers who receive assistance under this section must be capable, as determined by a home study, of providing a physically safe environment and a stable, supportive home for the children under their care and must assure that the children’s well-being is met, including, but not limited to, the provision of immunizations, education, and mental health services as needed.
(c) Relatives or nonrelatives who qualify for and participate in the Relative Caregiver Program are not required to meet foster care licensing requirements under s. 409.175.
(d) Relatives or nonrelatives who are caring for children placed with them by the court pursuant to this chapter shall receive a special monthly caregiver benefit established by rule of the department. The amount of the special benefit payment shall be based on the child’s age within a payment schedule established by rule of the department and subject to availability of funding. The statewide average monthly rate for children judicially placed with relatives or nonrelatives who are not licensed as foster homes may not exceed 82 percent of the statewide average foster care rate, and the cost of providing the assistance described in this section to any caregiver may not exceed the cost of providing out-of-home care in emergency shelter or foster care.
(e) Children receiving cash benefits under this section are not eligible to simultaneously receive WAGES cash benefits under chapter 414.
(f) Within available funding, the Relative Caregiver Program shall provide caregivers with family support and preservation services, flexible funds in accordance with s. 409.165, school readiness, and other available services in order to support the child’s safety, growth, and healthy development. Children living with caregivers who are receiving assistance under this section shall be eligible for Medicaid coverage.
(g) The department may use appropriate available state, federal, and private funds to operate the Relative Caregiver Program. The department may develop liaison functions to be available to relatives or nonrelatives who care for children pursuant to this chapter to ensure placement stability in extended family settings.