I’m a day late, but it worked out because a lot of news came out this morning. Here we go!
Group Homes are Back
When the Family First Prevention and Services Act passed back in 2018, it significantly limited federal reimbursement for “non-family” settings, which is defined mostly as group homes and institutions. States could still place kids in those homes, but would be 100% on the hook for the costs after 2 weeks. There are exceptions for QRTPs, which are highly regulated treatment programs, maternity homes, and programs for kids who are “at-risk” of human trafficking.
When the state was implementing the changes, a lot of group homes bowed out. The census of kids in group care in Florida went down by 33% from 2,400 to 1,600 over three years. People who study this stuff had healthy skepticism about whether the FFPSA would result in any real change, but this was a clear measurable result.
Now, group homes are making a comeback. DCF recently provided me an update on the placement data and it shows they’ve been keeping track of the FFPSA categories. The increase in group home placements appears largely in the At-Risk Homes population. There are a few QRTPs, but not many. We currently have nearly 1,000 kids in at-risk placements and another 800 in regular group homes. (The black line below shows the total, the blue and orange add up to the total.) This is still way below the highs of the mid-2000s, but given that the overall number of kids in care is going down, we should keep an eye on this.
What’s going on in the legislative session?
Children’s Week in Tallahassee ends today. Congratulations to all the kids who went up and chaperones who survived the week.
The biggest child-related legislative news this week was clearly the School Choice bill. Foster kids were already eligible for these scholarships, so we will see how expanding them to the general public affects access and funding. The public education system isn’t a free market, and giving people money to buy better education only works if there are options out there. The long-term effects of this policy will be worth watching.
SB 226 clarifies the procedures to bring a case for parental support of dependent adult children. Suing your parents for ongoing support was always possible in Florida, but there were no clear rules on how to prosecute it. While we’re looking at this law, though, let’s acknowledge that foster kids with disabilities often don’t have legal parents because the state terminated their rights and didn’t get them adopted, so we should extend this to a claim for support against DCF for care in perpetuity until DCF finds someone to do an adult adoption. The bill passed the Senate and is now pending in the House.
The only other child welfare bill that’s really moving is HB 757, modifying the lead agency contracts to require policies on streamlining permanency, data entry, and adoptive home studies. A great deal of system policy is codified and monitored indirectly through the contracts, so this isn’t a bad thing. I’m just not sure how much impact it will really have.
A few bills are scheduled for hearings next week in the Senate Children, Families, and Elder Affairs committee April 4 at 11:00am.
- SB 272 is a children’s ombudsman bills. Seems ok to me, there needs to be a complaint process for kids in care.
- SB 1384 would significantly alter the functioning of the Guardian ad Litem Office and attorneys for kids. I have lots of questions on this one, but that’s for another post.
- SB 1440 requires access to dependency courts through Zoom (or whatever platform your court is using). I support this. Chapter 39 has so many hearings that parents and kids were missing whole days of school and work for 5 minutes with a judge. We need as much flexibility as possible to help people be involved in their cases.
What’s going on with trans kids?
Today is Transgender Day of Visibility. The biggest child-related administrative news recently is the Department of Health’s restriction on doctors providing gender treatment to minors. The rule is aimed at medical licenses — it doesn’t criminalize kids or parents. The rule forbids treatment of transgender kids with surgeries, puberty blockers, and hormones. Doctors can still prescribe the exact same surgeries, puberty blockers, and hormones for other kids and other conditions, just not trans kids. It also allows trans kids who are already on hormones to continue taking them, which seems to be conceding an important point.
The equal protection violation alarms are ringing loudly on this one. This week a lawsuit was filed seeking a temporary injunction and permanent ruling that the ban is unconstitutional.
Meanwhile, I’ve had clients on four and five psychotropic medication cocktails with significant body- and personality-altering side effects, who get violently Baker Acted by school staff and the police regularly, and who are forced into therapy with questionably qualified clinicians who often make the situation worse. The mental health and medical systems definitely do harm to kids, but testosterone gel isn’t on that list.
Family Court Review Special Issue
The Family Court Review journal, which publishes multidisciplinary articles on family law, put out a special issue with great articles about looking at the system differently. The journal may be behind a pay-wall, so here are a few articles that are available elsewhere:
Vivek S. Sankaran, Christopher E. Church: The ties that bind us: An empirical, clinical, and constitutional argument against terminating parental rights
Jeanette Vega-Brown, Tricia N. Stephens: Still, we rise: Lessons learned from lived experiences in the family policing system
And that’s it!
I’m going to start putting these out on Fridays because Thursdays are really hard. Hope you had a good week.