(1) LEGISLATIVE FINDINGS AND INTENT.–
(a) The Legislature finds that reunification is the most common outcome for children in out-of-home care and that caregivers are one of the most important resources to help children reunify with their families.
Terms Used In Florida Statutes 409.1415
- Partnership: A voluntary contract between two or more persons to pool some or all of their assets into a business, with the agreement that there will be a proportional sharing of profits and losses.
(b) The Legislature further finds that the most successful caregivers understand that their role goes beyond supporting the children in their care to supporting the children’s families, as a whole, and that children and their families benefit when caregivers and birth or legal parents are supported by an agency culture that encourages a meaningful partnership between them and provides quality support.
(c) Therefore, in keeping with national trends, it is the intent of the Legislature to bring caregivers and birth or legal parents together in order to build strong relationships that lead to more successful reunifications and more stability for children being fostered in out-of-home care.
(2) PARENTING PARTNERSHIPS.–
(a) In order to ensure that children in out-of-home care achieve legal permanency as soon as possible, to reduce the likelihood that they will reenter care or that other children in the family are abused or neglected or enter out-of-home care, and to ensure that families are fully prepared to resume custody of their children, the department and community-based care lead agencies shall develop and support relationships between caregivers and birth or legal parents of children in out-of-home care, to the extent that it is safe and in the child’s best interest, by:
1. Facilitating telephone communication between the caregiver and the birth or legal parent as soon as possible after the child is placed in the home of the caregiver.
2. Facilitating and attending an in-person meeting between the caregiver and the birth or legal parent as soon as possible after the child is placed in the home of the caregiver.
3. Developing and supporting a plan for the birth or legal parent to participate in medical appointments, educational and extracurricular activities, and other events involving the child.
4. Facilitating participation by the caregiver in visitation between the birth or legal parent and the child.
5. Involving the caregiver in planning meetings with the birth or legal parent.
6. Developing and implementing effective transition plans for the child’s return home or placement in any other living environment.
7. Supporting continued contact between the caregiver and the child after the child returns home or moves to another permanent living arrangement.
(b) To ensure that a child in out-of-home care receives support for healthy development which gives the child the best possible opportunity for success, caregivers, birth or legal parents, the department, and the community-based care lead agency shall work cooperatively in a respectful partnership by adhering to the following requirements:
1. All members of the partnership must interact and communicate professionally with one another, must share all relevant information promptly, and must respect the confidentiality of all information related to the child and his or her family.
2. The caregiver; the birth or legal parent; the child, if appropriate; the department; and the community-based care lead agency must participate in developing a case plan for the child and the birth or legal parent. All members of the team must work together to implement the case plan. The caregiver must have the opportunity to participate in all team meetings or court hearings related to the child’s care and future plans. The department and community-based care lead agency must support and facilitate caregiver participation through timely notification of such meetings and hearings and provide alternative methods for participation for a caregiver who cannot be physically present at a meeting or hearing.
3. A caregiver must strive to provide, and the department and community-based care lead agency must support, excellent parenting, which includes:
a. A loving commitment to the child and the child’s safety and well-being.
b. Appropriate supervision and positive methods of discipline.
c. Encouragement of the child’s strengths.
d. Respect for the child’s individuality and likes and dislikes.
e. Providing opportunities to develop the child’s interests and skills.
f. Being aware of the impact of trauma on behavior.
g. Facilitating equal participation of the child in family life.
h. Involving the child within his or her community.
i. A commitment to enable the child to lead a normal life.
4. A child in out-of-home care must be placed with a caregiver who has the ability to care for the child, is willing to accept responsibility for providing care, and is willing and able to learn about and be respectful of the child’s culture, religion, and ethnicity; special physical or psychological needs; circumstances unique to the child; and family relationships. The department, the community-based care lead agency, and other agencies must provide a caregiver with all available information necessary to assist the caregiver in determining whether he or she is able to appropriately care for a particular child.
5. A caregiver must have access to and take advantage of all training that he or she needs to improve his or her skills in parenting a child who has experienced trauma due to neglect, abuse, or separation from home; to meet the child’s special needs; and to work effectively with child welfare agencies, the courts, the schools, and other community and governmental agencies.
6. The department and community-based care lead agency must provide a caregiver with the services and support they need to enable them to provide quality care for the child pursuant to subsection (3).
7. Once a caregiver accepts the responsibility of caring for a child, the child may be removed from the home of the caregiver only if:
a. The caregiver is clearly unable to safely or legally care for the child;
b. The child and the birth or legal parent are reunified;
c. The child is being placed in a legally permanent home in accordance with a case plan or court order; or
d. The removal is demonstrably in the best interests of the child.
8. If a child must leave the caregiver’s home for one of the reasons stated in subparagraph 7., and in the absence of an unforeseeable emergency, the transition must be accomplished according to a plan that involves cooperation and sharing of information among all persons involved, respects the child’s developmental stage and psychological needs, ensures the child has all of his or her belongings, allows for a gradual transition from the caregiver’s home, and, if possible, allows for continued contact with the caregiver after the child leaves.
9. When the case plan for a child includes reunification, the caregiver, the department, and the community-based care lead agency must work together to assist the birth or legal parent in improving his or her ability to care for and protect the child and to provide continuity for the child.
10. A caregiver must respect and support the child’s ties to his or her birth or legal family, including parents, siblings, and extended family members, and must assist the child in maintaining allowable visitation and other forms of communication. The department and community-based care lead agency must provide a caregiver with the information, guidance, training, and support necessary for fulfilling this responsibility.
11. A caregiver must work in partnership with the department and community-based care lead agency to obtain and maintain records that are important to the child’s well-being, including, but not limited to, child resource records, medical records, school records, photographs, and records of special events and achievements.
12. A caregiver must advocate for a child in his or her care with the child welfare system, the court, and community agencies, including schools, child care providers, health and mental health providers, and employers. The department and community-based care lead agency must support a caregiver in advocating for a child and may not retaliate against the caregiver as a result of this advocacy.
13. A caregiver must be as fully involved in the child’s medical, psychological, and dental care as he or she would be for his or her biological child. The department and community-based care lead agency must support and facilitate such participation. The caregiver, the department, and the community-based care lead agency must share information with each other about the child’s health and well-being.
14. A caregiver must support a child’s school success, including, when possible, maintaining school stability by participating in school activities and meetings. The department and community-based care lead agency must facilitate this participation and be informed of the child’s progress and needs.
15. A caregiver must ensure that a child in his or her care who is between 13 and 17 years of age learns and masters independent living skills. The department shall make available training for caregivers developed in collaboration with the Florida Foster and Adoptive Parent Association and the Quality Parenting Initiative on the life skills necessary for children in out-of-home care.
16. The case manager and case manager supervisor must mediate disagreements that occur between a caregiver and the birth or legal parent.
(c) An employee of a residential group home must meet the background screening requirements under s. 39.0138 and the level 2 screening standards for screening under chapter 435. An employee of a residential group home who works directly with a child as a caregiver must meet, at a minimum, the same education and training requirements as caregivers in family foster homes licensed as level II under s. 409.175(5).
(3) RESOURCES AND SUPPORT FOR CAREGIVERS.–
(a) Foster parents.–The department shall establish the Foster Information Center to connect current and former foster parents, known as foster parent advocates, to prospective and current foster parents in order to provide information and services, including, but not limited to:
1. Navigating the application and approval process, including timelines for each; preparing for transitioning from approval for placement to accepting a child into the home; and learning about and connecting with any available resources in the prospective foster parent’s community.
2. Accessing available resources and services, including, but not limited to, those from the Florida Foster and Adoptive Parent Association, for any current foster parents who need additional assistance.
3. Providing information specific to a foster parent’s individual needs.
4. Providing immediate assistance when needed.
(b) Kinship caregivers.–
1. A community-based care lead agency shall provide a caregiver with resources and supports that are available and discuss whether the caregiver meets any eligibility criteria for such resources and supports. If the caregiver is unable to access resources and supports beneficial to the well-being of the child, the community-based care lead agency or case management agency must assist the caregiver in initiating access to resources by:
a. Providing referrals to kinship navigation services, if available.
b. Assisting with linkages to community resources and completion of program applications.
c. Scheduling appointments.
d. Initiating contact with community service providers.
2. The community-based care lead agency shall provide each caregiver with a telephone number to call during normal business hours whenever immediate assistance is needed and the child’s caseworker is unavailable. The telephone number must be staffed and answered by individuals possessing the knowledge and authority necessary to assist caregivers.
(4) RULEMAKING.–The department shall adopt rules necessary to administer this section.