by Bethany Blankley
Gov. Ron DeSantis on Tuesday signed a bill into law dedicating $44 million in support to Florida foster families.
At a news conference held at Miami-Dade College, he said, “signing the bill should leave no doubt … that this state stands committed to the proposition that every life counts. All these kids deserve an opportunity and we’re going to do what we can to make sure that their dreams and hopes and aspirations can become a reality and a loving home.”
The bill includes revisions to existing law and creates new programs. It increases monthly payments for care givers and the monthly subsidies for childcare and expands postsecondary education waivers for foster children. It also expands a program that has since 2019 added more than 4,000 foster families who are providing homes to children in need.
“Not only does this bill allow us to expand our support for foster parents, but it also creates more opportunities for foster children,” DeSantis said. “Including our work on early literacy and fatherhood, Florida is a national leader in setting young children up for success.”
The new law “will provide expanded opportunities to the most vulnerable youth in our community,” Dr. Malou Harrison, provost at Miami Dade College, said, “to lift themselves and their families towards independence.”
Miami-Dade College offers the largest college campus-based program for students who’ve aged out of the foster care system and are seeking a college education or credentials.
“I aged out of foster care in Miami-Dade County and I took a tuition waiver. It was my first experience in college and I always say it was the foundation to my success,” former foster youth Demarco Mott said in a statement. “I am now serving on the board of directors of Educate Tomorrow. We hear the stories, we get the calls and we needed this. It is definitely exciting to know that we can do a lot more. Policy makers are listening and providing more money and now we can go ahead and do more good work. When we can invest in our children now, we get that reward in our society later.”
The bill amended section 1009.25 of Florida statutes to reorganize and expand the population of students eligible for the tuition and waives fees for those who’ve interacted with the foster system. It provides for foster children to apply for tuition exemptions and fee waivers for workforce education programs at Florida College System institutions or state universities. Previously, exemptions were limited to foster youth under age 18. Under the revised law, tuition and fee waivers will be available for those adopted out of the foster care system or who spent a significant time in foster care in their teenage years.
State Sen. Ileana Garcia, the bill’s sponsor, said, “Across our state, we have so many dedicated relatives who are willing to step up to the plate and take on the responsibility of raising a child. Whether it is the level of monthly support needed to feed, clothe and shelter a child, or access to the college tuition waiver, these heroic family members should have the same level of benefit as a foster family.
“Likewise, the costs of out-of-home daycare, which we require for children in the dependency system, have been identified as a major barrier for families interested in fostering children. This bill closes the gap between what the Early Learning Coalition voucher pays and the actual cost of care.”
The bill also amended section 39.5085 of Florida statutes by increasing monthly payments for caregivers, both relatives and nonrelatives, to be equal to the room and board rate for a licensed foster home. This change is important, advocates argue, because placing children with relatives or family friends has often been the best outcome for them. Previously, relative and nonrelative caregivers received $250 to $320 less per month than licensed foster homes.
The bill also created a $200 monthly child-care subsidy for any foster parent and relative or nonrelative who have younger foster children placed in their homes between the ages of birth and school entry. The subsidy is designed to ensure that they have access to early learning programs and foster parents can afford to enroll them in them.
“Changes to existing law and new programs will make it easier for the Department of Children and Families to recruit foster parents,” DCF Secretary Shevaun Harris said in a statement. “We have made it a goal to equip former foster youth with the right tools to become economically self-sufficient, and the expansion of the tuition and fee waiver through this bill will be a tremendous support,” he added.
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Bethany Blankley is a contributor to The Center Square.
Photo “Ron DeSantis” by Federal Government of the United States of America. Background Photo “Foster Family” by Piqsels.