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. 29 30 Be It Enacted by the Legislature of the State of Florida: 31 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 39.4085 Foster Children’s Bill of Rights.— 37 (1) LEGISLATIVE FINDINGS AND INTENT.— 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. 129 (4) ROLES AND RESPONSIBILITIES OF THE DEPARTMENT, 130 COMMUNITY-BASED CARE LEAD AGENCIES, AND OTHER AGENCY STAFF; 131 AUTHORITY OF DISTRICT SCHOOL BOARDS.— 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 39.4088 Children’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. 179 (1) GENERAL RESPONSIBILITIES OF THE OMBUDSMAN.—The 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. 189 190 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. 204 (3) DEVELOPMENT AND DISSEMINATION OF INFORMATION.— 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.