Tallahassee – The people have spoken, and they want LGBT foster children to be safe when they’re staying in group homes.
According to the Tampa Bay Times, more than 700 people have submitted written comments to Florida’s Department of Children and Families, asking it to add LGBT protections back into its group home rules. The lone dissenting letter is from Michael and Marysol McDonald of Naples, who claim they are interested in becoming foster parents once their children are older, but “would find it very disconcerting to have to worry about possibly being accused of bullying a foster child simply by practicing our faith!!”
The flood of feedback is in response to the state’s decision to backtrack on those protections. The LGBT Child Welfare Work Group asked DCF to add LGBT protections to the rules governing group homes in the summer of 2015 and the state was on track to do so until January of 2016, when two religious organizations that run group homes – Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops and Florida Baptist Children’s Home – testified at a public hearing on the updates and presented letters arguing against the protections for LGBT foster children. In April, DCF held a public hearing on the issue and the comments were 100 percent in favor of the protections.
“It’s not surprising that the child welfare community has unanimously said this is the right thing to do for kids,” says Robert Latham, LGBT Child Welfare Work Group chair and supervising attorney for the Children & Youth Law Clinic at the University of Miami School of Law. “We’re hoping the Department will take all this into account and make the changes needed to protect kids.”
If DCF is unwilling to officially change policy, Latham says there are other avenues, such as trainings, contract negotiations, informal policies or recommended procedures they could explore.
“Any of those would be a start in helping to protect this population,” he says.
In the meantime, Latham says he and his fellow advocates are stilling waiting to hear from the state on what they plan to do. He says DCF did reach out to say that Gov. Scott did not intervene on the protectionsfor LGBT foster children.The state did not clarify why the language was crossed out.
“We’re really hoping for an answer soon,” Latham says.