Galvano's DCF bill OK'd by Gov. Scott

bdupuy@MiamiHerald.comJune 26, 2014 

Doris Freyre believes her daughter would still be alive today if an attorney had intervened.

But Marie Freyre, 14, only had her mother to fight for her before she died in a Miami nursing home in 2011.

Freyre said a new law signed by Gov. Rick Scott could have made the difference in her disabled daughter's life had it existed before.

The law, sponsored in the Legislature by Bradenton state Sen. Bill Galvano and Miami Rep. Erik Fresen,

takes effect July 1.

After signing a child welfare overhaul Monday, Scott signed another bill that could begin to give voice to children long rendered voiceless. Scott signed House Bill 561 Wednesday, requiring the appointment of an attorney for dependent children with special needs.

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 laywer under the new law.

The state Department of Children & Families will select dependent children who qualify for an attorney.

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