Youth in Florida’s foster care system will now be better informed on their own rights thanks to a new law. Senate Bill 272, also known as the “Nancy C. Detert Champion for Children Act,” was signed by Governor DeSantis on June 16 after passing unanimously in both houses in the Florida Legislature. This important legislation is the result of five years of relentless advocacy by Florida Youth SHINE (FYS), a statewide advocacy organization run by and for youth who are or were in Florida’s child welfare system. The bill sponsors included Rep. Chase Tramont and Senator Ileana Garcia.
The new law creates a clear process to educate youth in foster care, in a developmentally appropriate, consistent way, about important laws that the legislature has passed to help them succeed. These include safety, education, contact with siblings, normalcy, and access to food, shelter, and healthcare. Additionally, case managers will now be required to educate youth in foster care about important laws and requirements every six months in an age-appropriate way.
It also enshrines in law the Department of Children and Families’ Office of the Children’s Ombudsman, which must consult with children and young adults who are or were in out-of-home care in creating materials used to provide understandable and useful information. The ombudsman will serve as a resource to identify and explain relevant policies to children, young adults, and their caregivers and provide recommendations to DCF to improve policies and services.
“This is truly a life-changing bill,” said Geori Seldine, Executive Director of Florida’s Children First, the organization that supports Florida Youth SHINE. “Now every child in the system will be educated about the laws and their rights in an age-appropriate way.”
The Florida Legislature has passed several laws intended to protect and benefit children in foster care, including laws to extend foster care to age 21, promote “normalcy,” provide college tuition, help youth obtain driver’s licenses, and reduce sibling separation. Yet, the state does not have educational standards in place to ensure that the children who can benefit from them are made aware of their existence.
“As someone who grew up in the system, I know how scary and confusing child welfare can be, “said Kyle Johnson, Administrative Chair of Florida Youth SHINE. “Florida has great laws meant to help children and young adults, but they don’t do any good if youth don’t know about them.”
Florida Youth SHINE’s observations are confirmed by state and national data, which estimate that only 35% of Florida’s foster youth received any Chafee transition services they were eligible for between ages 14 and 21, which is 12% less than the national estimate according to a recent report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation “Fostering Youth Transitions 2023: State and National Data to Drive Foster Care Advocacy.”
The “Nancy C. Detert Champion for Children Act” was named after the late Senator who championed the rights of Florida’s youth in foster care. Florida Youth SHINE Statewide Chair Rebekka Behr, who was in foster care in Palm Beach County, met Sen. Detert while serving in the Senate Page Program.
“Many foster kids don’t know they can participate in extracurricular activities and have normalcy to partake in such programs,” Behr said. “During this program was when I met Senator Detert and I learned that she passed laws like the normalcy bill and extended foster care. Passing these bills led to me being able to stay in extended foster so I could prepare to attend college.”
“We heard from hundreds of youth for years that they never knew they had a right to attend school or participate in extracurricular activities, or have their healthcare needs met,” Seldine shared. “Every child deserves the opportunity to thrive and be kept safe, and now every child will know they have a right to that even if they are in foster care.”
ABOUT FLORIDA’S CHILDREN FIRST
Florida’s Children First is an award-winning non-profit organization dedicated to advancing the rights of at-risk children and youth in foster care. It focuses on making big systemic changes that improve the system for thousands of youth in care today, and in the future. FCF helped young people create Florida Youth SHINE to provide foster youth the support they need to reach their full potential as advocates for their own needs.