The role of Carole Shauffer and QPI are highlighted in the following article about normalcy in foster care in Florida.
WILKINS, DETERT TELL CONGRESS ABOUT FOSTER CARE REFORMS
By MARGIE MENZEL THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA
THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, May 9, 2013……….Florida’s 2013 foster-care reforms shared the spotlight at the U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday, as Department of Children and Families Secretary David Wilkins and state Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, described the state’s progress in revamping its foster care system.
They spoke to a House Ways and Means subcommittee at a hearing called “Letting Kids Be Kids: Balancing Safety with Opportunity for Foster Youth.”
The topic dovetailed with two bills Detert helped lead efforts to pass this year. HB 215, called the “normalcy” bill because it gives foster parents more power and less liability in approving normal activities for their foster kids, was signed into law last month by Gov. Rick Scott.
Also, SB 1036 would extend foster care to age 21 for young adults who choose to stay. It passed both chambers but hasn’t yet been presented to Scott. Detert told House members Thursday that Scott would sign it.
Above all, she said, Florida improved its foster-care system by listening to young people who had lived in the system.
“I learned early in my legislative career that if you want to make good law, you listen to the people whose lives are going to be affected by that law,” Detert said. “If you want to know what’s going on in the foster care system, you ask the kids who are in the system and the young adults who have aged out of the system.”
FLORIDA YOUTH SHINE
Before this year, Detert was already known for sponsoring a 2002 bill that created Florida’s original Road to Independence program, which provides case-management services and stipends for foster youth.
She said Thursday she got the idea from a young woman in foster care who came to her office.
By this year, when Detert moved to sponsor SB 1036 and the Senate version of HB 215, she found an army of volunteers who had been in the Road to Independence program. They’d formed Florida Youth SHINE, an advocacy group for young people who had been in state custody.
“During this past legislative session, more than 40 members met with 60 legislators and testified at 14 committee meetings in order to support legislation that will affect the lives of over 19,000 children and young adults,” Detert said.
The members of Youth SHINE have also guided two of Wilkins’ predecessors, former DCF Secretaries, Bob Butterworth and George Sheldon. The young people explained, for instance, why it was so hard to complete high school on time, as they were often pulled from one school and sent to another, with big gaps in attendance when their school records hadn’t caught up.
“One of the things I learned in Florida is there’s a real disconnect between the foster-care system and the education system,” said Sheldon, who now works on foster care and other issues as acting assistant secretary at the Administration for Children and Families at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
As a result of his experience with Youth SHINE, Sheldon worked with Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and Rep. Karen Bass, D- Calif., sponsors of the Uninterrupted Scholars Act to help foster children stay on track in school. It was signed into law by President Obama in January. The law is designed to fix a loophole that prevented child welfare agencies from seeing the educational histories of foster children because of privacy regulations. It mirrors legislation already passed in Florida.
“You can’t hold foster parents in the child welfare system responsible for quality education outcomes if they don’t have access to educational records of kids in foster care,” Sheldon said.
Among the Youth SHINE members who worked with state leaders was Mike Dunlavy, now a graduate of St. Thomas College of Law and headed for a new job at Children’s Legal Services in Miami.
Dunlavy said the experience of working on groundbreaking legislation had transformed many members of Youth SHINE as well, “because now they were looking at the big picture, something that they were a part of that was bigger than them as an individual. And now they were accepted and they were wanted and their voices mattered and their opinions were given a value never given before.”
Carole Schauffer, of the Youth Law Center, met Butterworth when he was Florida’s attorney general and she was suing DCF and Big Bend Community Based Care for housing foster kids in the latter agency’s offices.
When Butterworth became DCF secretary, he called Schauffer in and proposed they collaborate. “Why continue to litigate when we both wanted the same thing?” he asked her. The result was that Schauffer spearheaded the Quality Parenting Initiative in parts of Florida, including the area served by Big Bend Community Based Care.
Schauffer credited Detert’s bills and the efforts of Wilkins and his wife, Tanya, with making important changes in lives of youths in foster care.
“The transformation which the bills have accomplished and which the secretary and Mrs. Wilkins have totally supported is the transformation from a glorified babysitter to a real parent,” Schauffer said. “Kids cannot live their whole lives with a glorified babysitter.”
According to Detert, the 2013 Legislature heard repeatedly that the best foster parents had to break the rules in order to provide normalcy for children in their care. She said any legislation designed to achieve normalcy in the lives of children in foster care must empower foster parents, but lawmakers have been hesitant to do that “because there have been too many injuries and deaths that have occurred as a result of children being placed with incompetent foster parents.”
“We have to raise the bar on foster parents,” Wilkins told House members Thursday. “They have to get the kids to soccer practice and demand academic performance and all those things.”