Q: What are the visitation rights of grandparents when children have been removed from their parents because of abuse, abandonment or neglect?
A: Florida Statute (39.509) states that a maternal or paternal grandparent as well as a step-grandparent is entitled to reasonable visitation with his or her grandchild, unless the court finds that the visitation is not in the best interest of the child or that visits would interfere with the goals of the parent's case plan.
It also states that the visits may be unsupervised and may be frequent and continuing, and that the case manager shall arrange the visitation. A grandparent is entitled to appropriate displays of affection and the right to give gifts.
If a grandparent allows a meeting between the child and the child's parent when no special court arrangements have been made for this to happen, the grandparent's visitation rights may be terminated.
If a parent's rights to the child are terminated, the visitation rights of the grandparents are not affected unless the court finds that visitation is not in the best interest of the child.
When the court reunifies the child with the parent, the parent has the right to determine the visitation rights of the grandparents.
Q: What is the Rilya Wilson Act and how does it protect children who have been removed from their parents because of abuse or neglect?
A: Rilya (Remember I love you always) was removed from her mother with her two siblings when she was an infant. Rilya was placed with her alleged grandmother in 2000. Her mother's parental rights were terminated due to drug abuse, and her father was never identified.
It was the responsibility of the Florida Department of Children and Families to check on Rilya on a monthly basis. In 2002, it was discovered that Rilya was missing and had not been seen since January 2001. Eventually Rilya was presumed dead. Several people lost their jobs because monthly visits to the grandmother's home were not made.
In efforts to prevent similar incidents, Florida passed the Rilya Wilson Act in 2003 requiring all preschool children
in protective custody to be enrolled in a licensed day-care center. By being in licensed day-care center, these children have the eyes of the community on them and get an age-appropriate education to help reduce the negative consequences of abuse, abandonment and neglect.
When a preschool child is enrolled in a licensed day-care center, the center is required to monitor attendance. If the dependent child is absent, the caregiver must call before the end of the business day to have the absence excused. If the caregiver doesn't call, the absence is considered unexcused.
After two consecutive unexcused absences, the case-management organization is required to do a visit of the child's residence. After seven consecutive excused absences, there must also be a visit to the child's home placement. This law insures that children in protective custody will be in the public eye and not meet a similar fate of Rilya Wilson.
Day-care centers are also an excellent place for case managers and guardian ad litem to observe preschool children. Conversations with day-care staff can provide valuable information on how well a child is adjusting to their new caregivers, socializing and progressing in an age-appropriate manner.
Pam Hindman, director of the Guardian ad Litem program for the 12th Judicial Circuit, writes this weekly column for the Herald. Readers who have questions for "Ask the GAL" or who might be interested in becoming a GAL volunteer can email Pam at firstname.lastname@example.org, or write to her at Guardian ad Litem Program, 1051 Manatee Ave. W., Hensley Wing, Suite 330, Bradenton 34205.