Today, Governor Rick Scott and First Lady Ann Scott were joined by Department of Children and Families Secretary David Wilkins, foster child advocate Tanya Wilkins, Guardian Ad Litem Executive Director Alan Abramowitz, Representative Ben Albritton, Senator Nancy Detert and Department of Juvenile Justice Secretary Wansley Walters to sign House Bill 215, the "Normalcy Bill" which reduces rules and regulations that currently limit the activity of children in foster care.
Governor Scott said, "Florida families have always been my top priority, and I believe that this legislation will help foster families and group homes become an even stronger family setting."
This bill, also referred to as the "Let Kids be Kids" bill recognizes the importance of allowing children in foster care the ability to take part in everyday activities, without the involvement of case managers, provider agencies or the court system. The "Reasonable and Prudent Parent" standard incorporated in the bill allows foster parents to give foster children permission to do daily, age appropriate, activities such as joining a school athletic team or going to the beach with friends.
"Children in foster care deserve to be treated like any other kid in the state, and this new law will help to accomplish that," said bill sponsor, Representative Ben Albritton. "I am very thankful that we have a Governor that values kids here in the state and puts that belief into action, and I am pleased to join him in signing this bill into law."
Senate sponsor Senator Nancy Detert said, "In our quest to protect children in our care we have, in essence, bubble wrapped them and prevented them from leading normal lives. Under this new bill, foster care kids will still be protected but they won't be red flagged as "foster care kids.' This bill will allow them to live a more normal life."
Department of Children and Families Secretary David Wilkins spoke at today's event in support of the new law. "Because of Governor Scott and the leadership, advocacy and support of the Florida Legislature, youth who have been in foster care, foster and adoptive parents, and volunteer advocates across the state, signed this important legislation which truly puts Florida's most vulnerable children first," said Wilkins. "Reducing regulations empowers foster caregivers to be the parents that children in foster care need and help them have the same opportunities as any of our children."
"When children are alone and against the world, foster parents give them time to rebuild their lives. Foster parents provide needed structure, a listening ear for a hurt soul, and help our children get ready for the real world," said Tanya Wilkins, Florida's Advocate for Foster Care and Adoption. "These changes will allow foster parents to encourage sports and music, slumber parties or even part-time jobs -- activities that build self-esteem, develop friendships and help define a child."
Department of Juvenile Justice Secretary Wansley Walters said, "I want to thank Governor Scott for signing HB 215, and I want to congratulate Florida's Guardian ad Litem Program for their hard work on the passage of this important legislation. The bill promotes the concept that all children deserve the opportunity to have a normal family-like upbringing. Furthermore, this legislation empowers caregivers to make decisions regarding children that focus on the health and safety of children while also boosting their emotional and developmental growth."
As Governor Scott prepared to sign the bill, Alan Abramowitz, Guardian Ad Litem Executive Director, gave words in celebration of this new law. "The children have championed this bill and our state leaders have listened. On July 1, our Statutes will reflect the values we hold for children in foster care. The law will recognize them not as "foster kids," but just kids," he said.