Rep. Stevenson’s HB 1121 protects our more vulnerable

One of the traps we fall into from time to time on these opinion pages is this: We get so focused railing on the bad laws that Tallahassee puts out during a session that we may fail to give credit where credit’s due on the good ones.

 

Such is House Bill 1121, sponsored and shepherded through the legislative process by our own Rep. Cyndi Stevenson — with a little help from Florida’s Department of Children and Families. The bill adds extra protection for the more vulnerable of our population, a gives a better set of tools to our judges — especially those involved in Florida’s family courts.

One provision allows judges to scrutinize prior histories of parents here from other states when considering whether or not to terminate or restrict parental rights.

Previously these records might be reviewed, but were not required to be reviewed by DCF or the judges.

“This would enable judges to consider the parents’ full history. Crossing a state line does not make a child any safer and parents should not get a clean slate just because they crossed our state line. This is particularly important for border states like Alabama and Georgia,” Stevenson wrote.

The bill also expands protections for newborns, by requiring a court to order evaluations and treatments as well as assessments for parents whose own substance abuse might have contributed to the harm of the infant.

It also requires that kids born into a home involved in an investigation be added to the probe. The same is true for children moving into a home under an active investigation.

“HB 1121 contains many important provisions that improve the protection of children and our most vulnerable adults. I am delighted that, after two years of effort, this legislation is finally in effect. Ultimately, I believe this bill will save lives,” Stevenson said.

All that said, the bill won’t do much good if the DCF isn’t accessible. We dialed the Northeast Florida District 7 phone number to speak with someone regarding the bill, or at least get pointed in the right direction. We were caught in a Twilight Zone of phone recordings, none of which sent us where we thought we might be heading. Finally, we were able to find a phone number to speak to someone in St. Johns County. The number (823-4430) was disconnected. We never heard a human voice.

We wonder how a distraught family member in an emergency situation could ever find someone with whom to speak. The bureaucratic jumble of these agencies has always been a defect.

You can’t get help, if you can’t find the helpers.

 

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