Governor Scott Signs Bill into Law to Help Disabled Children
July 8, 2014 01:30 PM
Gov. Rick Scott (R-FL) recently signed a bill into law that could begin to give voice to children long rendered voiceless - HB 561 – that requires the appointment of an attorney for dependent children with special needs. The law took effect July 1 of this year.
The Florida Legislature set aside $4.5 million to pay attorneys willing to represent disabled and medically needy children in the court system, said a statement from the advocacy group Florida’s Children First. Attorneys may also provide their services pro bono.
“It’s been our mission since 2002 to enact a law like this because disabled children are the most vulnerable children to come into our child welfare system,” said Howard Talenfeld, president of Florida’s Children First. “Unfortunately, they have to face a maze of bureaucratic hurdles in order to obtain the benefits they need to be safe and to survive in the foster care system.”
Under the new law, attorneys would be appointed to children who meet several criteria, including youngsters who live in nursing homes, are diagnosed with a developmental disability — such as autism, cerebral palsy or Down syndrome — or who are the victims of human trafficking. Children who are prescribed psychiatric drugs, but refuse to take them, also can be appointed a lawyer under the new law.
Governor Rick Scott said, “I’m happy to sign this legislation today to ensure that children who have disabilities and are in the care of the state are guaranteed that advocate to represent them in legal matters. We must do everything to protect our children and this legislation provides greater support to those who need it most.”
The state Department of Children & Families will select dependent children who qualify for an attorney.
To read Gov. Scott’s press release regarding HB 561, please click here.