Florida Senate subcommittee unanimously passed Sen. Loranne Ausley’s bipartisan bill, which aims to codify a de facto bill of rights for children and young adults under the state’s custody.
The Committee on Children, Families, and Elder Affairs heard the bill, which was sponsored by Ausley, on Nov. 30. Ausley, a Democrat, represents District 3, which includes Gulf and Franklin Counties. The committee’s Chair, Republican Sen. Ileana Garcia from Miami, co-sponsored the legislation.
Senate Bill 792 aims to clearly state the rights already granted to children in the state’s foster care system in one place.
“It’s really about the foster kids themselves,” Ausley said. “Making sure that they are aware of what their rights are. There’s a list of things that are sort of scattered throughout the Florida Statutes, you know, the right to be able to call their siblings, to have an attorney, or there’s a whole number of them.”
The legislation will act as a single reference for the rights of these youths, which have previously been scattered and difficult to discern.
“It’s really not about creating any new rights,” Ausley said. “It’s not enforcing anything. It is simply taking all of the different pieces and parts that are the rights that have been given to these kids in foster care, putting them in one place and setting up a process by everybody that comes in contact with these foster kids – case managers, guardians ad litem, etc.”
Florida Youth Striving High for Independence and Empowerment brought the idea to Ausley while she was serving as a representative in the Florida House, where the effort ultimately failed.
Ausley and the organization were eager to try again in the Florida Senate, where it quickly found support.
Several representatives from Youth SHINE spoke at the hearing, Ausley said, sharing their experiences in foster care and thoughts on how legislation like SB 792 could have helped.
Rebekka Behr, a former foster youth who entered the system at 16, shared the story of her removal from her family, which caused her to lose contact with her siblings and fall behind significantly in school.
Martavius Lowery spent almost his entire childhood in the state’s custody. He said he lived in 18 different homes during his time in foster care, often with abrupt and disruptive transitions in between.
“Had I known my rights, I would have advocated that I go to court to ask and see to talk to my sister,” said Brian Thompson, who aged out of foster care when he turned 18.
After hearing these youth’s testimonies the legislation was unanimously passed. According to the Florida Senate’s website, the bill is now in the Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services.