Florida Fifth DCA: Poverty and Medical Neglect

The Fifth DCA recently issued an opinion in A.J. v. DCF upholding a finding of dependency in a poverty + medical fragility case. According to the opinion, the parents were living out of a car, medical appointments were missed, and the child’s life was endangered. This, the court held, was sufficient to show neglect.

The Fifth DCA ends the opinion with a bit of rumination:

The parents and child have had a rough road to navigate and will continue to
face monumental obstacles. The purpose of the finding of dependency is not to punish
the parents, but rather to help them meet the needs of a very challenged little girl.
§ 39.501(2), Fla. Stat. (2011).

I and others have said before: A parent should not have to mortgage their parental rights in order to obtain help with a medically fragile child. Note that rich people don’t face this dilemma; they simply expend personal resources to help their child (which this family did without intervention from DCF until their funds ran out). Poor people only have public resources, and those come at a very high price. The Department started these proceedings seeking TPR.

Instead of patronizing these parents, the Fifth could have explained why section 39.01(32)(f) doesn’t apply to bar a finding of dependency here:

(f) Neglects the child. Within the context of the definition of “harm,” the term “neglects the child” means that the parent or other person responsible for the child’s welfare fails to supply the child with adequate food, clothing, shelter, or health care, although financially able to do so or although offered financial or other means to do so.

The parents missed appointments, but the opinion does not say why. If the parents were refusing voluntary help–rides to the hospital, medical day care, etc.–that would have been good guidance for the future.

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