The Florida Legislature will convene for its 2022 session on January 11. This early start has pushed “Committee Weeks” into the fall of 2021. Six are scheduled. The first meetings took place the week of September 20.
The Capitol was re-opened to the public. American Children’s Campaign was represented by Roy Miller, Michael Sonntag, and Tom Griffin with Smith, Bryan and Myers. Committee hearings were monitored and reported by the Policy Team of apprentices under the direction of Amanda Ostrander.
Most committee hearings were introductory in content, with executive branch agencies providing updates on their work and priorities since the close of the 2021 session in May.
Of special interest were presentations about child welfare and maternal health.
Senate Children, Families & Elder Affairs
The Florida Department of Children & Families provided updates on two bills passed earlier in the year: SB 80 and SB 96.
SB 80: Face sheets containing condensed case overview for each system-involved child will go live by the end of the month. In addition, multi-disciplinary teams to increase permanency and safety are being on-boarded. The Office for Continuing Care will coordinate support for former foster youth ages 18-26, and efforts are underway to define specific instances to reinstate parental rights. It is unclear at this time though how the parental rights measure will impact other existing permanency mandates and goals.
SB 96: Team members for the expanded Critical Incident Rapid Response Team (CIRRT) investigations are expected to be hired and trained soon. These additional team members are needed due to verified reports of sexual abuse in out-of-home care now qualifying for CIRRT investigations. While an important step in the right direction, American Children’s Campaign’s 2022 legislative agenda includes a call for other situations where CIRRT should be expanded. Another provision of SB 96 requires more deliberate and consistent use of family finders for children removed from their homes and post-adoption services to ensure families have adequate support. A “rights” brochure for use in foster care is expected to be distributed in October.
House Professions and Public Health Committee
Infant mortality was examined, which included representatives of the Department of Health; Cathy Timuta, executive director of the statewide Florida Association of Healthy Start Coalitions; and Jane Murphy, executive director of the Hillsborough County Healthy Start Coalition. It was reported that in 2020 the number of infant deaths in Florida was 1,213 or 6 deaths per 1000 live births, a mortality rate of 5.8% which mirrors the national rate. Overall, though, in Florida over the past decade the trend line has decreased (positive direction). In Hillsborough County the rate was reduced by 22% in the same time period. The health of the pregnant parent continues to be an integral factor requiring more attention, resources, and preventative health care.
Venerable child advocate Jack Levine testified at the hearing that during the duration of the committee hearing 27 newborns made their entrance into Florida.
Debt Free Justice Campaign
On September 23, a national campaign launched, aimed at abolishing fines and fees in the juvenile justice system. During Florida legislative session 2021, American Children’s Campaign along with Fines and Fees Justice Center and Juvenile Law Center revealed that Florida was ripe for reform – of the $6.2 million in fees imposed on Florida youth in 2018, only a meager 11% was collected. Great harm is done for no real return to the state. In fact, it is likely that the cost of collections exceeds revenue. It has become clear that the Clerks of Circuit Courts need a funding model that does not depend on the levying of fines and fees that disproportionally impact vulnerable populations. This is a problem that includes both youth and adults.
American Children’s Campaign is committed to ensuring children’s futures are as limitless as their dreams. Our nonpartisan 2022 Policy Playbook focuses our work on three areas: promoting health, safety and equity throughout COVID-19; stopping institutionalized child trauma; and policy improvements to overcome barriers to child success. We invite you to explore these policy priorities and recommendations for legislative and administrative action. And look for our future Capitol Reports, Top Stories and Action Alerts so you can Be the Change in improving policies and practices that improve the lives of Florida’s everyday families and children.
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This Capitol Report is brought to you by Amanda Ostrander, Karen Bonsignori, Roy Miller, Kaitlyn Carroll and Alicia Camaliche