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The Florida Statutes

The 2021 Florida Statutes

Title V
JUDICIAL BRANCH
Chapter 39
PROCEEDINGS RELATING TO CHILDREN
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F.S. 39.4092
39.4092 Multidisciplinary legal representation model program for parents of children in the dependency system.
(1) LEGISLATIVE FINDINGS.
(a) The Legislature finds that the use of a specialized team that includes an attorney, a social worker, and a parent-peer specialist, also known as a multidisciplinary legal representation model program, in dependency judicial matters is effective in reducing safety risks to children and providing families with better outcomes, such as significantly reducing the time the children spend in out-of-home care and achieving permanency more quickly.
(b) The Legislature finds that parents in dependency court often suffer from multiple challenges, such as mental illness, substance use disorder, domestic violence or other trauma, unstable housing, or unemployment. These challenges are often a contributing factor to children experiencing instability or safety risks. While these challenges may result in legal involvement or require legal representation, addressing the underlying challenges in a manner that achieves stability often falls within the core functions of the practice of social work.
(c) The Legislature also finds that social work professionals have a unique skill set, including client assessment and clinical knowledge of family dynamics. This unique skill set allows these professionals to interact and engage with families in meaningful and unique ways that are distinct from the ways in which the families interact with attorneys or other professional staff involved in dependency matters. Additionally, social work professionals are skilled at quickly connecting families facing crisis to resources that can address the specific underlying challenges.
(d) The Legislature finds that there is a great benefit to using parent-peer specialists in the dependency system, which allows parents who have successfully navigated the dependency system and have been successfully reunified with their children to be paired with parents whose children are currently involved in the dependency system. By working with someone who has personally lived the experience of overcoming great personal crisis, parents currently involved in the dependency system have a greater ability to address the underlying challenges that resulted in the instability and safety risk to their children, to provide a safe and stable home environment, and to be successfully reunified.
(e) The Legislature further finds that current federal law authorizes the reimbursement of a portion of the cost of attorneys for parents and children in eligible cases, whereas such funds were formerly restricted to foster care administrative costs.
(f) The Legislature finds it is necessary to encourage and facilitate the use of a multidisciplinary legal representation model for parents and their children in order to improve outcomes for those families involved in the dependency system and to provide the families who find themselves in a crisis with the best opportunity to be successful in creating safe and stable homes for their children.
(2) ESTABLISHMENT.Each office of criminal conflict and civil regional counsel established under s. 27.511 may establish a multidisciplinary legal representation model program to serve families in the dependency system.
(3) DUTIES.
(a) The department shall collaborate with the office of criminal conflict and civil regional counsel to determine and execute any necessary documentation for approval of federal Title IV-E matching funding. The department shall submit such documentation as promptly as possible upon the establishment of a multidisciplinary legal representation model program and shall execute the necessary agreements to ensure the program accesses available federal matching funding for the program in order to help eligible families involved in the dependency system.
(b) An office of criminal conflict and civil regional counsel that establishes a multidisciplinary legal representation model program must, at a minimum:
1. Use a team that consists of an attorney, a forensic social worker, and a parent-peer specialist. For purposes of this section, the term “parent-peer specialist” means a person who has:
a. Previously had his or her child removed from his or her care and placed in out-of-home care.
b. Been successfully reunified with the child for more than 2 years.
c. Received specialized training to become a parent-peer specialist.
2. Comply with any necessary cost-sharing or other agreements to maximize financial resources and enable access to available federal Title IV-E matching funding.
3. Provide specialized training and support for attorneys, forensic social workers, and parent-peer specialists involved in the model program.
4. Collect uniform data on each child whose parent is served by the program and ensure that reporting of data is conducted through the child’s unique identification number in the Florida Safe Families Network or any successor system, if applicable.
5. Develop consistent operational program policies and procedures throughout each region that establishes the model program.
6. Obtain agreements with universities relating to approved placements for social work students to ensure the placement of social workers in the program.
7. Execute conflict of interest agreements with each team member.
(4) REPORTING.
(a) Beginning October 1, 2022, and annually thereafter through October 1, 2025, each office of criminal conflict and civil regional counsel that establishes a multidisciplinary legal representation model program must submit an annual report to the Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability. The annual report must use the uniform data collected on each unique child whose parents are served by the program and must detail, at a minimum, all of the following:
1. Reasons the family became involved in the dependency system.
2. Length of time it takes to achieve a permanency goal for children whose parents are served by the program.
3. Frequency of each type of permanency goal achieved by children whose parents are served by the program.
4. Rate of subsequent abuse or neglect which results in the removal of children whose parents are served by the program.
5. Any other relevant factors that tend to show the impact of the use of such multidisciplinary legal representation model programs on the outcomes for children in the dependency system. Each region that has established a model program must agree on the additional factors and how to collect data on such additional factors for the annual report.
(b) The Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability shall compile the results of the reports required under paragraph (a) and conduct an analysis comparing the reported outcomes from the multidisciplinary legal representation model program to known outcomes of children in the dependency system whose parents are not served by a multidisciplinary legal representation model program. Each office of criminal conflict and civil regional counsel shall provide any additional information or data requested by the Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability for its analysis. By December 1, 2022, and annually thereafter through December 1, 2025, the Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability must submit its analysis in a report to the Governor, the President of the Senate, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives.
History.s. 14, ch. 2021-170.