Sometimes, doing the right thing at the right time requires unwavering commitment and unsung leadership. In what can be called nothing less than an impressive example of leadership in both houses, the Florida Legislature passed a bipartisan bill to provide attorneys to represent dependent, special-needs children in the legal custody of the Florida Department of Children & Families.
Under the legislation, $4.5 million will be provided to help ensure attorneys skilled in administrative and juvenile court proceedings, including attorneys from Florida’s Statewide Guardian ad Litem Program, are secured to represent children in these dependency cases.
The implications of non-representation were clear for these children, who often suffer medical or developmental disabilities. The DCF or other agencies, including the Florida Agency for Persons with Disabilities, the Agency for Health Care Administration, and the Social Security Administration, had seasoned attorneys representing their sides in matters of applications for and denials of benefits, education or placement.
Meanwhile, unrepresented children often languished in state custody and programs long after their peers have been placed with permanent families.
The bill, which still awaits Gov. Scott’s signature, is a tremendous win. Among the leaders who helped advance this cause and secure the bill’s passage was Senator Robert Bradley (R-Orange Park). Well before this session began, Sen. Bradley had proven himself tol be a tireless advocate for Florida’s most vulnerable citizens.
He and his fellow legislators, including Senator Bill Galvano (R-Bradenton) and Representative Erik Fresen (R-Miami), stand today as shining examples of the positive impact of dedicated child advocates.
Gloria W. Fletcher, vice president, Florida’s Children First, Gainesville