We just started our summer semester, and I have four amazing students working fulltime to handle a caseload that 16 students normally cover. It’s been a whirlwind. Here’s a look back at the last two weeks.
What’s been signed into law?
The governor’s been surprisingly slow at signing things this year.
Signed by the governor and now a law:
- The bill limiting release of autopsy reports for kids who die from domestic violence.
- The bill that limits gender treatment for minors and payment for treatment for adults.
- The bill that makes middle and high school start times later (mandatory as of 2026).
- The bill requiring concurrent permanency planning in CBC contracts.
- The bill creating a task force to figure out why kids run away.
- The bill that creates a process for adult dependent children to obtain support from their parents.
- The bill creating a children’s ombudsman and requiring notification of foster kids’ rights.
- The bill requiring DCF conduct a trauma screening on kids when they are taken into custody.
- The bill to expand KidCare eligiblity.
What does the anti-trans custody bill actually do?
There’s a lot of confusion around the anti-trans bills in Florida. They’re not good at all, but they don’t do some of the worst things I’ve seen on social media. Here’s a technical explanation of what SB 254 does with respect to child custody.
First, what SB 254 doesn’t do: it does not allow DCF to remove children from parents just because the kids or parents are transgender or receiving gender affirming care. That’s the important part.
What SB 254 does: it adds a new ground for temporary emergency jurisdiction under the UCCJEA (Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act). The UCCJEA is a law passed by all but one state (Massachusetts) that provides procedures for resolving conflicts when there are competing custody orders for children in different states. Imagine a parent from Georgia not liking their custody order, so they go to Florida and try to get a better one. The UCCJEA says how the two courts should cooperate and provides penalties for people who fail to disclose existing orders in other states.
The UCCJEA determines which state is the “home state” with jurisdiction over the child. The home state is typically the state where a parent or person acting as a parent has custody for at least 6 months. That keeps people from jogging across the border and getting a competing custody order.
The exception to the 6-month rule is when there’s an emergency. Temporary emergency jurisdiction is meant to last long enough for the Florida court to figure out whether there are other states’ courts involved and provide for the child’s needs in the meantime. If Florida isn’t the home state, then temporary emergency jurisdiction lasts until someone files a petition for custody in the home state. Jurisdiction is then transferred. If nobody does that and the child is in Florida for 6 months, then the temporary order becomes a final Florida order and is handled by Florida law.
Before SB 254, “emergency” meant abuse, “mistreatment,” or abandonment. SB 254 added gender-affirming medical care to the list. A parent can bring a child to Florida and seek emergency jurisdiction because the child is receiving gender affirming care. If there’s an existing court case in the other state, jurisdiction will be transferred back and the original judge will likely be very irritated. It could also lead to contempt if the original custody order did not permit the parent to bring the child out of state without permission. If there’s no pre-existing court case, the other parent would have to initiate one and then jurisdiction would transfer there.
SB 254 adds a similar provision for enforcement under the Hague Convention for international cases.
Substantively, the law doesn’t do much. Rhetorically, it puts gender affirming care on the same list as maltreatment, but notably doesn’t define care as maltreatment. Politically, though, it sets up television-ready battles where a parent flees to Florida with their trans child and begs Florida courts to not send the child back. Florida courts will have to send the child back, but that’s not really the point. Get ready.
Case law updates
The Third DCA, in a very short opinion, reminded everyone that evidence of domestic violence alone is not sufficient to adjudicate a child dependent. There must be some harm or imminent risk of harm to the child from the parent who is charged. (The question of whether a child’s “awareness” of the violence is enough isn’t addressed directly.) Reversed.
Intervention cases are very fashionable right now, and the First DCA has weighed in with one of its own. The child was in a foster home and reunification was progressing. The foster parents filed to intervene and object to reunification under 39.522. The GAL and DCF (good on them) filed a motion to strike, which the trial judge denied and held the reunification in abeyance (bad on them). The First DCA quashed the order because the intervention provisions of 39.522 do not apply to thwart or delay reunifications.
There’s an interesting concurrence by Judge Tanenbaum about how Chapter 39 tries to strike a balance between “state, child, and parental interests.” Allowing temporary caregivers to disrupt that balance in violation of that law, he says, is sufficient for certiorari. There must have been some internal debate about that in the court or he’s looking to some next case that is much harder to decide.
“Difficult to Place” Kids
One of the grossest parts of the foster care system is the market-based efforts that the state uses to get children adopted. It puts them on a public website where people can browse around and pick one. Events are hosted so that pre-adoptive families can meet them and kick the tires a little before they commit. The state pays a subsidy to encourage people to adopt, with extra financial incentives for certain kids. It’s essentially a discount.
Historically, those kids were called “special needs.” That included children with medical and therapeutic needs, kids over the age of 8, and kids in sibling groups. But it also included kids who were “of black or racially mixed parentage.” Language matters, so last year the legislature changed the wording to call these children “difficult to place.” And instead of naming black kids specifically, it now applies to “a member of a racial group that is disproportionately represented among children” who are in the permanent custody of DCF (i.e., “free for adoption”).
But language still matters. Kids who are members of racial groups that the population of people who adopt won’t take without extra money are not the ones being “difficult.”
DCF updated its admin rules to reflect the new language.
Things to Read
I’ve been stacking up things to read for two weeks, so here’s a giant list.
Tampa father fights for daughter after she was given up for adoption without his permission – this is awful and every professional involved should be ashamed
Texas Bill To Increase Rights for Parents Under Investigation Passes State House and Senate – there’s a lot of work about “DCF Miranda” going on
Study: Baltimore children moved from high-poverty to low-poverty areas saw their asthma improve – it’s very expensive to be poor
How Many Children Just Lost Coverage in Florida? – a lot, and we’re going to be sorting through this for a while
When should social workers separate families? A federal lawsuit raises thorny questions – maybe removal isn’t an inherently good thing
Upstream City: Child Welfare Systems Should Be Allies, Not Leaders, in Transformative Change – maybe the state isn’t a great source of inspiration
Tort Claims for the Coverup of Child Sexual Abuse: Private Litigation, Corporate Accountability, and Institutional Reform – when the criminal system and administrative state won’t recognize your harms, maybe private rights of action can make change
Pathology Logics – how the law processes being poor, black, and stressed out as a clinical and moral pathology that justifies coercive state action
Brown’s Children’s Rights Jurisprudence and How It Was Lost – how the Brown cases gave up children’s rights in service of adults
Weaponizing Fear – foster care as a system of control over Black LGBTQ+ families
How Functional Parent Doctrines Function: Findings from an Empirical Study – ways the law accommodates broader definitions of family
Studies and articles
Event history analysis on racial disparities in the path to adoption for Black and White children – it’s what you expect and we need to keep reminding everyone about it
Examining Foster Care Outcomes for American Indian Children in the Context of the Indian Child Welfare Act – does ICWA “work”? is that the right question?
Protecting the Rights and Providing Appropriate Services to LGBTQIA2S+ Youth in Out-of-Home Care – thanks for the pamphlet, Children’s Bureau, but maybe take action against states that do harm?
Associations Between State TANF Policies, Child Protective Services Involvement, And Foster Care Placement – yeah, poverty is a predictor of the state taking custody of a child