The Florida House Civil Justice & Claims Subcommittee heard testimony on HB 57. The bill would authorize pro bono attorneys representing special needs foster children to access due process funds for costs like deposition, evaluations, and subpoenas. The bill is sponsored by Representative Frank White of Pensacola: “One way you do not recruit volunteers is to charge them a lot of money out of pocket, and that’s what this bill fixes.
The Senate Finance Committee issued a report on the states’ weak oversight and control of their privatized child welfare providers. The report finds that 86 kids died while under one company’s care. (Florida uses/used this company too, but reportedly did not respond to the committee’s request for information.)
“State child welfare agencies report they have procedures in place to monitor child welfare providers’ performance and outcomes,” the report said. “But this investigation … shows that these policies are not always followed; exceptions are made, waivers are granted, profits are prioritized over children’s well-being, and sometimes those charged with keeping children safe look the other way.”
Carol Marbin Miller and Audra Burch are unstoppable investigators. Their 2014 report Innocents Lost laid bare the child welfare system’s rampant lack of effort and oversight in abuse investigations. Now, with FIGHT CLUB, they set their sights on the juvenile delinquency system. And what they find is appalling: mismanagement of facilities, unbelievable hiring practices, and victimization of children that the Department of Juvenile Justice was charged with helping.
As I read through these articles, I could hear the voices of clients who have told similar stories over the years. Once they’re safely out of the programs, they often just want to look forward to better things instead of re-litigating the past. They had no sense that fighting would do any good for them or future incarcerated kids. The only rational strategy they saw was to escape.
One of my students today asked how this can continue to happen. “It doesn’t make any sense,” she said. But it does make sense. If you pull vulnerable kids out of their communities and homes, put them in isolated places behind locked closed doors, supervise them with some good staff who are poorly trained and unsupported, and supervise them with other staff who are evil, malicious, or unkind — this makes perfect sense. If you prioritize investment in security systems instead of schools, this makes sense. If kids who speak out get hurt and adults who don’t play along get fired, it makes sense. And if doing all of that generates $500 million a year in revenue for people who do not have to experience any of its harms, it almost couldn’t be any other way. Despite whatever good moments may happen on any given day at any particular program, violence has always been a feature of these systems, not a bug.
It is very easy to dismiss or rationalize away a single child’s stories of mistreatment as an aberration or justly deserved punishment. Articles like this and other acts of collective reckoning are often the only avenue towards justice available. What those in power do with these stories will reflect their priorities and assumptions about the world we live in. We have to challenge those assumptions. The solutions cannot be a pay raise for staff (money does not make you good), better video cameras (too many eyes watched these things happen already), or higher penalties for staff who hurt kids (kids should not be put in harm’s way to put more people in jail).
If you watch the looped video on the Herald’s website long enough, the answer becomes pretty apparent. You don’t need to fix them. These programs shouldn’t even exist.
If it feels like the legislative session just ended, that’s because it did. Florida’s constitution allows legislators to choose the session start date in even numbered years instead of the normal first Tuesday after the first whatever this is a confusing way to do dates. Why would they move it? Spring Break, campaign season, and possibly bloodlust for turkeys.
The hurricanes delayed the calendars a bit, so we are just seeing the first bills moving through committees. And they are:
SB 96 – Human Trafficking Education in Schools. Revising the required health education in public schools to include information regarding the dangers and signs of human trafficking; authorizing a student to opt out of a specified portion of the health education under certain circumstances, etc.
SB 108 – Florida Kidcare Program. Establishing the Kidcare Operational Efficiency and Health Care Improvement Workgroup as a task force administratively housed in the Department of Health to maximize the return on investment and enhance the operational efficiencies of the Florida Kidcare program, etc.
That human trafficking one probably needs a tweak: letting parents opt their kids out of the HT curriculum seems unwise, since some parents traffic their kids.
Some other child welfare-related bills I’m watching this session:
The 240 or so bills that eliminate Florida’s law permitting minors to marry with parental consent. Because, you know, some parents traffic their kids.
A bill that would permit pro bono attorneys for kids in dependency cases to obtain due process costs from JAC. This is a no-brainer for me. Pro bono attorneys volunteer their services, but they should not also have to personally fund all of the litigation costs related to the case when there is always money leftover in the special needs appointment pot.
Bills requiring a study on the use of direct files to charge minors as adults. Given the disparities we already know exist across the state, we really need to look into this.
Two Florida district courts issued favorable rulings for biological fathers this month. Both fathers were granted standing and a chance to assert their claim over the objection of the presumptive legal fathers.
The Second District permitted a biological father to challenge the paternity of a man on the birth certificate. The court approved of the following:
bringing paternity actions in dependency cases (the rules permit it);
standing of bio fathers to challenge paternity based on fraud, duress, or material mistake of fact (in this case, the mother’s fraud and the legal father’s mistake of fact);
not putting any weight on a court’s identification of the parents at a shelter hearing (it’s not a paternity hearing); and
recognizing prospective parents as participants when in the best interest of the children (the statute requires it).
There’s nothing legally new here, but it is a nice roadmap for handling those convoluted cases where two (unmarried) men are vying for the same child.
The Fourth District addressed the issue of standing when the legal father is married to the mother in Perkins v. Simmonds (Fla. 4th DCA 2017). The Fourth rejected an absolute bar to challenging the presumption of paternity when a child is born into an intact marriage, and instead re-affirmed its prior holdings that the presumption must give way when it “outrage[s] common sense and logic.” (Not a particularly helpful formulation, but better than an inflexible bar.) In this case, the child was given the bio father’s last name, was financially supported by the bio father, and had a strong relationship with the bio father. That was more than enough to give the bio father standing to assert paternity.
These seem like good outcomes. Maybe one day we can be done with the legal concept of legitimacy and all the problems it invites.
Theresa Glennon, Somebody’s Child: Evaluating the Erosion of the Marital Presumption of Paternity, 102 W. Va. L. Rev. 547 (2000) (via heinonline.org)
David D. Meyer, Parenthood in A Time of Transition: Tensions Between Legal, Biological, and Social Conceptions of Parenthood, 54 Am. J. Comp. L. 125 (2006) (via jstor.org)
Sarah McGinnis, You Are Not the Father: How State Paternity Laws Protect (and Fail to Protect) the Best Interests of Children, 16 Am. U.J. Gender Soc. Pol’y & L. 311, 312 (2007) (via digitalcommons.wcl.american.edu)
Melanie B. Jacobs, My Two Dads: Disaggregating Biological and Social Paternity, 38 Ariz. St. L.J. 809, 810 (2006) (via digitalcommons.law.msu.edu)
Melanie B. Jacobs, Parental Parity: Intentional Parenthood’s Promise, 64 Buff. L. Rev. 465 (2016) (via digitalcommons.law.msu.edu)
Melissa Murray, What’s So New About the New Illegitimacy?, 20 Am. U.J. Gender Soc. Pol’y & L. 387 (2012) (via ssrn.com)
Leslie Joan Harris, Involving Nonresident Fathers in Dependency Cases: New Efforts, New Problems, New Solutions, 9 J.L. & Fam. Stud. 281 (2007) (via heinonline.org)