06 Oct 2014

Potential Solution Devised for Developmentally Disabled Children

TALLAHASSEE | The director of the Florida Agency for Persons with
Disabilities said her agency will be able to provide services for severely
disabled young adults in extended foster care under a legislative fix now
in the works.

Agency Director Barbara Palmer said she and state Sen. Nancy Detert,
R-Venice, have agreed on a tweak to a 2013 law that extends the option of
staying in foster care to age 22 for people with disabilities.

"I've talked with the governor's office, and they're very supportive of us
getting this fixed," Palmer said. "They don't want two agencies at odds
with each other over children."

Before the law, which went into effect on Jan. 1, severely disabled foster
children turning 18 would be eligible for what is known as APD's Medicaid
"home- and community-based" services waiver on an emergency basis. The
young adults' legal representatives could cite impending homelessness as an

But since the law passed, youths have had the option of staying in extended
foster care until age 21— or age 22 for those with disabilities. So it's
been unclear which services for disabled young adults in the foster care
system would be covered under the APD waiver and which by the privatized
community-based care agencies, which get their funding through the
Department of Children and Families.

Research shows that children in foster care have a much higher rate of
disabilities than the general population and are 40 to 60 percent more
likely to become homeless.

"We want them to stay in foster care if that's in their best interest,"
Palmer said this week. "But we also want them to be taken care of
financially. So we're going to recommend that that be paid for out of APD."
Last week Palmer met with Detert, who sponsored the original legislation
extending foster care and will sponsor the remedy now on the drawing board.

"What I told (Palmer) is some of our local (service providers), they might
get a handicapped kid that costs them $50,000 a year for that one kid,"
Detert said. "And maybe they only deal with 80 kids, and they'd have to lay
off staff to deal with their budget. (Palmer) agrees, and she's willing to
work it out."

Department of Children and Families Deputy Director Pete Digre said his
agency is "totally on board" with a legislative solution.

"The kids would get the benefit of the APD services and the educational
services in extended foster care," he said.

Mike Watkins, chief exe­cutive officer of Big Bend Community Based Care,
said young people who have been abused, abandoned or neglected need
specialized services to deal with the repercussions — and those who also
have disabilities need a separate set of services that APD is best
qualified to provide.

"I don't think it's an either-or," Watkins said.

Neither does Palmer.

"I don't want a child to opt out of foster care," she said. "That is not
and never was the intent of this (legislation). And I know it wasn't the
legislative intent, either — they weren't trying to do that. And I don't
think any child should be put in a position where they could lose that kind
of family support just to get financial supplementation."

The agreement is expected to include having the Agency for Persons with
Disabilities supplement the funding for the staffing and services that
allow someone to live in his or her community instead of an institution.
Community-based care agencies would have to pick up other expenses.