(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(3). 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(3). 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. A young adult is eligible to receive financial assistance during the months when he or she is 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)1. 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:
a. Not in foster care.
b. Temporarily not receiving financial assistance under subsection (2) to pursue postsecondary education.
2. Subject to available funding, aftercare services as specified in subparagraph (b)8. are also available to a young adult who is between the ages of 18 and 22, is receiving financial assistance under subsection (2), is experiencing an emergency situation, and whose resources are insufficient to meet the emergency situation. Such assistance shall be in addition to any amount specified in paragraph (2)(b).
(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. Temporary financial assistance to address emergency situations, including, but not limited to, automobile repairs or large medical expenses.
9. Financial literacy skills training under s. 39.6035(1)(c).
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) DEPARTMENT RESPONSIBILITIES.— (a) The services provided under this section are portable across county lines and between community-based care lead agencies. 1. The service needs that are identified in the original or updated transition plan under s. 39.6035 must be provided by the lead agency where the young adult is currently residing but shall be funded by the lead agency that initiated the transition plan.
2. 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.
(b) Each community-based care lead agency shall at least annually attempt to contact each young adult who has aged out of foster care, who is potentially eligible for continuing care under s. 39.6251 or for the services available under this section, and who is not participating in any of these services. Through this contact, the lead agency shall communicate the continued availability of these programs and the services of the Office of Continuing Care established under s. 414.56. The lead agency shall also inquire into the young adult’s needs and refer him or her to other programs that may be of assistance.
(c) Each community-based care lead agency must offer services for intensive independent living development for young adults who have aged out of foster care and have the greatest deficits in life skills.
(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 s. 39.6251 and the Road-to-Independence Program.
(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 the 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)1. 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 under the program, problems identified with the program, and recommendations for department or legislative action.
2. 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 the recommendations of the advisory council and the department’s response. The report must also include the most recent data regarding the status of and outcomes for young adults who turned 18 years of age while in foster care, relating to education, employment, housing, financial, transportation, health and well-being, and connections, and an analysis of such data and outcomes.
(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, young adults who receive services and funding through the Road-to-Independence Program, representatives from the headquarters and regional offices of the department, 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, CareerSource Florida, Inc., the Statewide Guardian Ad Litem Office, foster parents, 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 advisory council may consult with children currently in care and young adults who aged out of care regarding their needs, preferences, and concerns related to preparation for, transition to, and support during independent living.
(e) The department shall provide administrative support to the 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.
(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) FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE FOR YOUNG ADULTS RECEIVING SERVICES.—Financial awards to young adults receiving services under subsections (2) and (3) and s. 39.6251 may be disregarded for purposes of determining the eligibility for, or the amount of, any other federal or federally supported assistance for which the department is required to determine eligibility for the program. (10) 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).
(11) RULEMAKING.—The department shall adopt rules to administer this section.