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Report: Florida Helping to Change Foster-Care Experience

A new report looks at what still needs to be done to help kids in foster care experience the most normal childhood possible. Credit: hotblack/morguefile
A new report looks at what still needs to be done to help kids in foster care experience the most normal childhood possible. Credit: hotblack/morguefile
December 11, 2015

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Learning to drive, playing a sport and going on sleepovers, they're all part of what many consider a "normal" childhood, but that's not always the case for the nearly 14,000 Florida kids in foster care.

A new report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation shows how the federal Strengthening Families Act can help remove some of the barriers to typical adolescent activities. The Foundation's senior policy associate Todd Lloyd says prior to the law, which was passed last year, child welfare practices did not always allow kids in foster care to just be kids.

"Because it has been a system oriented toward safety, protecting children, that it's very easy to create policies that are overly restrictive out of concern for safety and also the liability," says Lloyd.

The report emphasizes the importance of implementing all requirements in the Strengthening Families Act, including engaging young people in their own case planning starting at age 14 and reducing group placement for children.

Many of those features already are written into Florida's Quality Parenting for Children in Foster Care Act, which has been in place since 2013 and served as a model for the federal legislation.

Diane Zambito, CEO with the CBY25 Initiative, which works with the state's providers serving at-risk youth, and she says there is still plenty of red tape when it comes to the community-based agencies that the state contracts with.

"We can put it into law all we want," says Zambito. "Young people can get drivers' licenses, young people can go to football, young people can take music. But if within that organization there are liability rules and insurance coverage and all of these things, then we have to overcome that."

Zambito adds that breaking down those barriers will require all those who work with kids in foster care, from the courts to the case workers to the foster parents, to focus on the overall goal: to give kids a normal life, keeping in mind that will take different forms.

"So it's not like there can be a statewide edict that says from now on we're going to do x, x and x, and this is how we're going to measure it," says Zambito. "Because the whole point of community-based care is doing what works within your community."

According to the report, a lack of funds or transportation, frequent moves and restrictive child-welfare policies can inhibit a child's relationships, decision-making skills and emotional well being. The report recommends that kids in foster care be able to participate in after-school activities and camps, get school pictures, have access to a telephone, and be able to learn to drive a car and travel with other youth and adults.

Mona Shand, Public News Service - FL