Family Law Attorney Marcie Baker Praises Foster Care Extension Law, But Care Providers Say They Cannot Afford It

Law Firm Newswire



Zephyrhills, FL (Law Firm Newswire) December 27, 2013 – A law extending foster care to young adults in Florida is getting pushback from the state’s “community-based care” (CBC) organizations.

The law, scheduled to take effect on January 1, 2014, extends eligibility for the benefits of foster care to age 21 for those who would otherwise age out of the system at 18. But the state’s 19 private CBC organizations that provide the foster services say the law creates costs they cannot afford.

“This is an important law for foster children, who face steep challenges creating stable, secure lives for themselves when their benefits are cut off at 18,” said Zephyrhills family law attorney Marcie Baker. “There seems to be a stark disagreement between the state and the CBCs about how much this will cost.”

The Florida Department of Children and Families projected that extending foster care from 18 to 21 would not increase costs. Mike Watkins, CEO of Big Bend Community Based Care, says that is not true. He projects that, system-wide, the new measure will cost tens of millions of dollars per year.

State Senator Nancy Detert, R-Venice, counters that the CBCs should have raised their objections last year while the bill was being considered. Instead, she points out, legislators never heard from the organizations.

The law will allow young adults to remain in foster care if they are engaged in high school, post-secondary school, vocational school, job training, working at least 80 hours per month or physically disabled to the point where they cannot take part in those activities.

In recent years, the number of children in state foster care has declined, largely due to the state’s emphasis on adoption and family reunification. The figure has fallen from 47,520 (in fiscal year 2003-2004) to 32,853 (in fiscal year 2011-2012).

Senator Detert pointed to these figures as she noted that CBCs might now be able to find room in their budgets for 18-to-21-year-olds.

Advocacy group Children’s Home Society states that one third of young adults who age out of foster care in the U.S. are homeless by age 21, and that a quarter of males become incarcerated in that time. Another group, Florida’s Children First, says a mere 30 percent graduate high school by 18.

“I sincerely hope the funding issue is resolved without weakening this law, which stands to be of enormous benefit to foster children in Florida,” added Baker.