Week in Review: new website for foster kids, boxes for babies, and a big group home is closing

I was writing this post last week and thought, “Hey, I should look at the GAL bill more closely.” Wow, what a mistake. I spent more time than I care to admit going through it. Maybe I’ll do a separate post later, if it starts moving in the Senate. In the meantime, here’s a double-post of things going on over the last two weeks.

New Resource for Kids: Foster Power

This is nice! Taylor Sartor at the Children’s Law Center of Bay Area Legal Services has created an amazing online resource for kids in DCF custody called Foster Power. It covers a lot of the topics kids frequently ask about: the court process, placements, allowance, school stability, and more to come. There are videos of youth talking about their experiences and offering advice.

It’s still a work in progress, but getting information to kids where they can find it is incredibly important. Congrats on actual years of hard work!

A few things to read

Not surprising: Parents, experts, DCF debate staffing crisis and high turnover rates

Awful: Lawsuit claims Clearwater foster family abused children for nearly 30 years

I’ve been trying to tell you: Guardian ad litem argues in federal case she had no duty to protect teen who committed suicide

Kids do worse when DCF is called on them: Child protective services contact and youth outcomes

It’s the economy, stupid: Income and Child Maltreatment: Evidence from a Discontinuity in Tax Benefits

Baby Boxes, but not the good kind

Lots of countries have baby boxes. Finland has been providing a äitiyspakkaus — a box of supplies to new mothers — since at least 1938. It comes with clothes, supplies, and condoms to remind people that you can get pregnant again very soon after birth so be careful. The box can be used as a makeshift crib for parents who don’t have one. Other countries and the state of New Jersey have similar programs.

Another version, being debated in Florida, is a refrigerated cubby on the side of a wall that you can deposit a baby into like an overdue library book or spare Christmas ham. The box has a silent alarm and presumably someone monitoring it at all times. I’ve lived in places with alarms and they are, at best, comically unreliable. My A/C also goes out every now and then. Do we really want to encourage people to put their baby in a potential oven? There has got to be a better way for people to seek help.

The political debate always frames this as some kind of alternative to abortion, but these anonymous drop-off boxes raise all kinds of legal, ethical, and moral questions around adoption. How do we know who put the baby in the box? Was the baby kidnapped and stashed there? Were all parents given notice and a chance to assert their rights? How do we know the parent who deposited the child did so voluntarily, not under duress, not in a moment of panic or weakness that would invalidate a surrender if done in court? And what does the box mean for that baby, whose relatives had no chance to claim them and who will grow up with no legal record connecting them back to their family?

The babies are considered legally surrendered. The pending law forbids adoption agencies from seeking out the parent who deposited the child or doing any kind of DNA testing to find family. That’s really extreme.

Proponents sometimes call these things Moses Boxes because Moses was put in a basket by the river and then “adopted” by the Pharaoh’s daughter. Happy ending. But let us remember the scriptures. Moses was put in the river because his Hebrew mother feared for his life from the government, which had ordered the death of all male Hebrew children. He grew up to lead a rebellion against his adopters for enslaving his people. Maybe creating a world where women have to abandon their babies in boxes isn’t actually a good thing. Any maybe in the story of Moses you aren’t supposed to want to be the Pharaoh.

The bill to authorize the anonymous surrender of rights passed the Florida House and is pending in the Senate.

Moses Saved from the River (Poussin, 1638)

The Mother of Invention

His House Children’s Home, one of the largest congregate care providers in the state, is reportedly losing its land lease with the county. Eviction? Nonrenewal? Doesn’t matter. It is currently set to close sometime around August 2023.

According to its website, His House has been in operation for 31 years and has a 239-bed capacity. While most of their recent work has been with unaccompanied children, they have been active in foster care the whole time. They used to be a case management agency before giving up that role to focus on placement instead.

Their website notes the number of siblings groups they’ve been able to keep together in foster care, and they’ve had a mommy-and-me home at various times. But, DCF’s main use of their program is taking in “difficult to place” kids as a last resort. That comes with all the predictable problems, multiplied because of their size.

So, Miami is about to enter into an experiment. What happens when you can’t rely on the last resort anymore? It’s a little hard to count the number of kids placed at His House over the years because each cottage has its own provider ID in the system and case managers were not always careful with the data entry, but it looks like somewhere between 40 and 50 kids will need to be moved. The system always manages to find homes when it has to. We will see.

Ok, what’s new with the GAL bill?

The GAL bill is moving in the House. The Senate has always viewed the GAL Office with a lot more skepticism, so we’ll wait and see what happens there.

There was a recent amendment to the House bill to add this language:

YES! I want to see more of this. I did a presentation at the GAL Disability Summit in 2019 where my main point was, “Hey, maybe we child advocates should spend less time replicating DCF’s duties and injecting ourselves into family dramas, and instead focus on materially improving the lives of children and their parents so they can succeed.” Someone from GAL literally pretended to choke me afterwards, so I guess the audience wasn’t ready for that conversation.

The GAL Office has historically tied its hands by limiting its work to Chapter 39. They always said the law didn’t permit them to do anything else, which is not entirely accurate. Chapter 39 requires them to review dispositional and permanency options and make recommendations, but they do a lot of other things that aren’t explicitly listed in the statutes. This change would clarify that they could do so much more.

Instead of badgering DCF to pay for tutoring, the GAL Office could take the heat to schools that constantly violate the educational rights of kids with disabilities. Instead of making a motion to modify a placement, the GAL Office could handle Medicaid appeals to get in-home services at a rate the family needs. Instead of filing to change the goal to adoption, the GAL Office could use the Marchman Act to get parents help on behalf of their children. A landlord won’t put a gate on the pool so a grandma can take custody? Sue them. There are laws for that.

When all you have is Chapter 39, you see everything in narrow terms of a parent’s performance and permanency. There are so many people responsible for the wellbeing of children who never face consequences for neglecting their duties. Families should not be torn apart for things outside of their control. The GAL Office could be a powerful watchdog for anyone who harms children.

When the GAL Office files a due process complaint against a school or an APD or Medicaid appeal in the name of the GAL Office — using its own money and a staff attorney — I will applaud.

What else is going on in the legislature?

The bill that would create a task force on kids who run away is still pending in the House. So is the bill that adds contract requirements on the CBCs. The bill that creates a children’s ombudsman and provides written notice of rights to foster kids is moving, too. The session goes until May 5.

That’s it for now. Hope you had a good two weeks.


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