Florida Senate - 2023                                     SB 272
       By Senator Garcia
       36-00393A-23                                           2023272__
    1                        A bill to be entitled                      
    2         An act relating to children and young adults in out
    3         of-home care; creating s. 39.4084, F.S.; providing
    4         legislative findings and intent; requiring the
    5         Department of Children and Families to establish the
    6         Office of the Children’s Ombudsman to serve a
    7         specified purpose; requiring the department to ensure
    8         that the office has sufficient staff; specifying dates
    9         by which the office must be established and certain
   10         information and training and processes provided;
   11         specifying the duties of the office; authorizing the
   12         office to access certain records; authorizing the
   13         office to work in conjunction with individuals and
   14         agencies to resolve complaints with the child’s or
   15         young adult’s permission; requiring the department to
   16         work with all stakeholders to educate children and
   17         young adults in out-of-home care regarding their
   18         rights and protections and the benefits available to
   19         them; requiring specified staff to provide certain
   20         materials to children and young adults in out-of-home
   21         care and explain certain rights and protections;
   22         requiring such staff to provide children and young
   23         adults in out-of-home care with information and
   24         instructions regarding the Office of the Children’s
   25         Ombudsman and to engage in a specified discussion;
   26         requiring such staff to document the information given
   27         and explained to children or young adults in out-of
   28         home care; requiring such staff to review certain
   29         information with children and young adults in out-of
   30         home care at specified intervals and upon every
   31         placement change; requiring such staff to provide
   32         caregivers with a written copy of the child’s or young
   33         adult’s rights and protections upon placement change;
   34         requiring specified facilities to post certain
   35         materials; requiring the office to submit an annual
   36         report to the Legislature by a specified date;
   37         providing requirements for such report; requiring the
   38         office to post the report on its website; requiring
   39         the department to adopt rules; providing construction;
   40         providing an effective date.
   42  Be It Enacted by the Legislature of the State of Florida:
   44         Section 1. Section 39.4084, Florida Statutes, is created to
   45  read:
   46         39.4084 Education for children and young adults in out-of
   47  home care.—
   49         (a) The Legislature recognizes that a child or young adult
   50  in out-of-home care can best advocate for himself or herself
   51  when aware of the laws intended to benefit him or her. It is the
   52  intent of the Legislature to empower such children or young
   53  adults to be stronger self-advocates by becoming better informed
   54  in a developmentally appropriate and understandable way about
   55  the laws enacted in furtherance of ss. 39.001(1)(a) and 39.4085.
   56  It is the intent of the Legislature that the department operate
   57  with the understanding that the rights and protections of a
   58  child or young adult in out-of-home care are critical to his or
   59  her safety, permanency, and well-being.
   60         (b) The Legislature has enacted numerous laws to directly
   61  benefit a child or young adult who is subject to chapter 39
   62  proceedings. The laws are located throughout the Florida
   63  Statutes and are not collected in one place and may not be
   64  easily understandable to a child, a young adult, or his or her
   65  caregiver. Therefore, it is the Legislature’s intent to help
   66  such children or young adults understand the existing rights and
   67  protections by ensuring that they are provided with regularly
   68  updated and developmentally appropriate materials regarding such
   69  rights and protections.
   70         (c) The Legislature also finds that given the complexity of
   71  the child welfare system in this state and the laws that govern
   72  the system, a child or young adult in out-of-home care may need
   73  the assistance of an ombudsman to assist them in understanding
   74  and accessing the protections and benefits afforded by the law.
   76         (a) By September 1, 2023, the department shall establish
   77  the Office of the Children’s Ombudsman to serve as an autonomous
   78  entity within the department to assist children and young adults
   79  in out-of-home care with resolving issues when they feel their
   80  rights or protections have been violated. In addition to
   81  overseeing the resolution process, the office shall create and
   82  disseminate educational materials and oversee the process of
   83  ensuring that a child or young adult is educated about his or
   84  her rights and protections. The department shall ensure that the
   85  office has sufficient staff to meet its goals and perform its
   86  duties. By January 30, 2024, the office shall distribute
   87  standardized information to the department and other
   88  stakeholders and begin to provide training and processes to
   89  comply with this section for the department and stakeholders.
   90         (b) The duties of the office include, but are not limited
   91  to:
   92         1. Establishing a process for receiving, processing, and
   93  resolving complaints by a child or young adult in out-of-home
   94  care when he or she feels his or her rights or protections have
   95  been violated. This process must be developed in consultation
   96  with youth advocacy organizations.
   97         2.Conducting investigations to resolve complaints by a
   98  child or young adult.
   99         3. Informing and educating children and young adults in
  100  out-of-home care about their rights and protections under state
  101  and federal law as well as the purpose, contact information, and
  102  services of the office.
  103         4. Developing standardized materials at developmentally
  104  appropriate levels for all children and young adults in out-of
  105  home care which explain relevant rights and protections and the
  106  process for resolving complaints. Such materials must be updated
  107  annually to reflect any legislative, administrative rule, or
  108  other policy changes. Such materials must be developed in
  109  consultation with the department, children’s advocacy and
  110  support organizations, and those who are or were children or
  111  young adults in out-of-home care.
  112         5. Providing all educational materials to the courts,
  113  community-based care lead agencies and their subcontracted
  114  providers, case workers, guardians ad litem and the Guardian Ad
  115  Litem Program, and others to assist them in educating children
  116  and young adults in out-of-home care about their rights and
  117  protections.
  118         6. Maintaining a publicly available website and telephone
  119  number, publicizing and conducting outreach efforts, and
  120  informing individuals about the office’s services, resolution
  121  process, and materials outlining rights and protections.
  122         7. Making inquiries and reviewing relevant information and
  123  records deemed necessary for investigations.
  124         8. Developing and facilitating training for case managers,
  125  child protective investigators, and others to instruct them on
  126  how to educate children and young adults in out-of-home care
  127  about their rights and protections.
  128         (c) The office may access all relevant records maintained
  129  by the department and its contracted and subcontracted providers
  130  related to complaints received. With the child’s or young
  131  adult’s permission, the office may work in conjunction with
  132  individuals and agencies as needed to resolve the complaint.
  135         (a)The department shall work with all stakeholders to
  136  ensure a child or young adult in out-of-home care becomes
  137  knowledgeable about his or her rights and the state and federal
  138  laws enacted to protect and benefit such children and young
  139  adults, including, but not limited to, all of the following:
  140         1. Safety.
  141         2. Education.
  142         3. Placement, visitation, and contact with siblings,
  143  family, and other important persons.
  144         4. Court participation.
  145         5. Participation in permanency planning, transition
  146  planning, and other case planning.
  147         6. Access to food, clothing, shelter, and health care.
  148         7.The topic of normalcy and what that means for children
  149  and young adults in out-of-home care.
  150         (b)The case manager, child protective investigator, or
  151  other staff shall provide each child or young adult in out-of
  152  home care with a developmentally appropriate copy of educational
  153  materials prepared by the office. Such case manager, child
  154  protective investigator, or other staff shall also provide the
  155  child or young adult with information and instructions about the
  156  office and engage the child or young adult in a discussion that
  157  explains his or her rights and protections while in out-of-home
  158  care and what he or she can do if he or she feels that his or
  159  her rights or protections are being violated. Such discussions
  160  and explanations must consist of words and phrasing that each
  161  child or young adult can understand and must occur in a manner
  162  that is most effective for each child or young adult. The case
  163  manager, child protective investigator, or other staff shall
  164  give each child or young adult the opportunity to ask questions.
  165  The case manager, child protective investigator, or other staff
  166  shall document in court reports and case notes the date that the
  167  information was explained and provided to the child or young
  168  adult. The case manager, the child protective investigator, or
  169  other staff shall review the information, including a copy of
  170  the educational materials, with the child or young adult at
  171  least every 6 months or upon every placement change that results
  172  in a new caregiver for the child or young adult until he or she
  173  leaves out-of-home care. Upon every placement change, the case
  174  manager, child protective investigator, or other staff must
  175  provide the child’s caregiver with a written copy of the child’s
  176  or young adult’s rights and protections. All case managers,
  177  child protective investigators, and other appropriate staff must
  178  complete annual training relating to such rights and
  179  protections. A facility licensed to care for six or more
  180  children or young adults in out-of-home care shall post
  181  materials provided by the Office of the Children’s Ombudsman in
  182  a prominent place in the facility.
  183         (4) REPORT.—Beginning July 30, 2024, and each July 30
  184  thereafter, the office shall submit a report to the President of
  185  the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives which
  186  includes an analysis of all data collected over the course of
  187  the year by the office, a discussion of internal policy changes,
  188  and any recommendations consistent with such data for improving
  189  the child welfare system and delivery of services. The data
  190  collected by the office for reporting must include, but is not
  191  limited to, the number of contacts with the office by children
  192  and young adults in out-of-home care; the number of complaints
  193  made, including the type and source of such complaints; the
  194  number of investigations performed by the office; complainant
  195  satisfaction with the results of the office’s investigations and
  196  resolutions; the issues that arose while investigating
  197  complaints and, if applicable, any trends associated with those
  198  issues; the number of referrals to services made; and the number
  199  of pending complaints. The office shall monitor the distribution
  200  of the standardized materials throughout this state and
  201  periodically survey stakeholders to evaluate and improve the
  202  degree to which children and young adults in out-of-home care
  203  are adequately informed of their rights and protections. The
  204  report must be posted on the office’s website.
  205         (5) RULEMAKING.—The department shall adopt rules to
  206  implement this section.
  207         (6) CONSTRUCTION.—This section does not create a civil or
  208  administrative cause of action and does not expand or limit any
  209  rights, protections, or remedies provided under any other law.
  210  The rights and protections described in this section are broad
  211  expressions of the rights and protections of a child or young
  212  adult in out-of-home care and are not exhaustive of all rights
  213  and protections set forth in the United States Constitution, the
  214  State Constitution, and federal and state law.
  215         Section 2. This act shall take effect July 1, 2023.