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The Florida Statutes

The 2023 Florida Statutes (including Special Session C)

Title V
Chapter 39
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F.S. 39.4085
39.4085 Goals for dependent children; responsibilities; education; Office of the Children’s Ombudsman.
(1) The Legislature finds that the design and delivery of child welfare services should be directed by the principle that the health and safety of children, including the freedom from abuse, abandonment, or neglect, is of paramount concern and, therefore, establishes the following goals for children in shelter or foster care:
(a) To receive a copy of this act and have it fully explained to them when they are placed in the custody of the department.
(b) To enjoy individual dignity, liberty, pursuit of happiness, and the protection of their civil and legal rights as persons in the custody of the state.
(c) To have their privacy protected, have their personal belongings secure and transported with them, and, unless otherwise ordered by the court, have uncensored communication, including receiving and sending unopened communications and having access to a telephone.
(d) To have personnel providing services who are sufficiently qualified and experienced to assess the risk children face before removal from their homes and to meet the needs of the children once they are in the custody of the department.
(e) To remain in the custody of their parents or legal custodians unless and until there has been a determination by a qualified person exercising competent professional judgment that removal is necessary to protect their physical, mental, or emotional health or safety.
(f) To have a full risk, health, educational, medical, and psychological screening and, if needed, assessment and testing upon adjudication into foster care; and to have their photograph and fingerprints included in their case management file.
(g) To be referred to and receive services, including necessary medical, emotional, psychological, psychiatric, and educational evaluations and treatment, as soon as practicable after identification of the need for such services by the screening and assessment process.
(h) To be placed in a home with no more than one other child, unless they are part of a sibling group.
(i) To be placed away from other children known to pose a threat of harm to them, either because of their own risk factors or those of the other child.
(j) To be placed in a home where the shelter or foster caregiver is aware of and understands the child’s history, needs, and risk factors.
(k) To be the subject of a plan developed by the counselor and the shelter or foster caregiver to deal with identified behaviors that may present a risk to the child or others.
(l) To be involved and incorporated, if appropriate, in the development of the case plan, to have a case plan which will address their specific needs, and to object to any of the provisions of the case plan.
(m) To receive meaningful case management and planning that will quickly return the child to his or her family or move the child on to other forms of permanency.
(n) To receive regular communication with a case manager, at least once a month, which shall include meeting with the child alone and conferring with the shelter or foster caregiver.
(o) To enjoy regular visitation, at least once a week, with their siblings unless the court orders otherwise.
(p) To enjoy regular visitation with their parents, at least once a month, unless the court orders otherwise.
(q) To receive a free and appropriate education; minimal disruption to their education and retention in their home school, if appropriate; referral to the child study team; all special educational services, including, if appropriate, the appointment of a parent surrogate; and the sharing of all necessary information between the school board and the department, including information on attendance and educational progress.
(r) To be able to raise grievances with the department over the care they are receiving from their caregivers, case managers, or other service providers.
(s) To be heard by the court, if appropriate, at all review hearings.
(t) To have a guardian ad litem appointed to represent, within reason, their best interests and, if appropriate, an attorney ad litem appointed to represent their legal interests; the guardian ad litem and attorney ad litem shall have immediate and unlimited access to the children they represent.
(u) To have all their records available for review by their guardian ad litem and attorney ad litem if they deem such review necessary.
(v) To organize as a group for purposes of ensuring that they receive the services and living conditions to which they are entitled and to provide support for one another while in the custody of the department.
(w) To be afforded prompt access to all available state and federal programs, including, but not limited to, Early Periodic Screening, Diagnosis, and Testing (EPSDT) services; developmental services programs; Medicare and supplemental security income; Children’s Medical Services; and programs for severely emotionally disturbed children.

This subsection establishes goals and not rights. This subsection does not require the delivery of any particular service or level of service in excess of existing appropriations. A person does not have a cause of action against the state or any of its subdivisions, agencies, contractors, subcontractors, or agents, based upon the adoption of or failure to provide adequate funding for the achievement of these goals by the Legislature. This subsection does not require the expenditure of funds to meet the goals established in this subsection except those funds specifically appropriated for such purpose.

(2) The department shall operate with the understanding that the rights of children in shelter or foster care are critical to their safety, permanency, and well-being. The department shall work with all stakeholders to help such children become knowledgeable about their rights.
(3)(a) The case manager or other staff shall, at a minimum, provide verbal and written:
1. Instructions to a child entering shelter or foster care to educate the child on identifying and reporting abuse, abandonment, or neglect; and
2. Information to a child about laws and requirements relating to the topics of nurturing care, personal safety, and protection from abuse, abandonment, and neglect; normalcy and what that means for a child in out-of-home care; education; participation in court proceedings; participation in permanency planning, transition planning, and other case planning; placement, visitation, and contact with siblings, family, and other individuals who are important to the child; and access to food, clothing, shelter, and health care.

The instructions and information must use words and phrasing that each child can understand and must occur in a manner that is most effective for each child. The written instructions and information are only required if the child is of a sufficient age and understanding to receive such instructions and information. The case manager or other staff shall give each child the opportunity to ask questions and shall document in court reports and case notes the date the instructions and information were provided to the child. The case manager or other staff shall review the instructions and information with the child every 6 months and upon every placement change until the child leaves shelter or foster care.

(b) District school boards are authorized and encouraged to establish educational programs for students ages 5 through 18 relating to identifying and reporting abuse, abandonment, or neglect and the effects of such abuse, abandonment, or neglect on a child. The district school boards may provide such programs in conjunction with the youth mental health awareness and assistance training program required under s. 1012.584, any other mental health education program offered by the school district, or any of the educational instruction required under s. 1003.42(2).
(4) The Office of the Children’s Ombudsman is established within the department. To the extent permitted by available resources, the office shall, at a minimum:
(a) Receive complaints from children and young adults about placement, care, and services and assist in mediating such concerns.
(b) Be a resource to identify and explain relevant 1policies or procedures to children, young adults, and their caregivers.
(c) Provide recommendations to the department to address systemic problems that are leading to complaints from children and young adults.
(5) The department shall consult with children and young adults who are currently or have formerly been in out-of-home care when creating or revising any print or digital written information used in implementing this section and shall use any responses or feedback to ensure that such print or digital written information is understandable by and appropriate and useful for the children and young adults of the ages for which such print or digital written information is intended.
History.s. 5, ch. 99-206; s. 12, ch. 2021-170; s. 2, ch. 2023-248.
1Note.The word “policies” was substituted for the word “polices” by the editors to conform to context and facilitate correct interpretation.