Foster parent privacy bill passes Florida House committee

Herald-Tribune by Daphne Chen

March 13, 2019

TALLAHASSEE — A bill promoted by the Department of Children and Families to make the names of foster parents a secret passed its first committee in the Florida House Wednesday.

The bill, sponsored by freshman lawmakers Rep. Spencer Roach, R-North Fort Myers, and Rep. Toby Overdorf, R-Palm City, was voted out of the committee unanimously and without discussion.

The legislation was spurred by a public records request last July by the Sarasota Herald-Tribune and GateHouse Media for the names of all licensed foster parents in the state, which the Department of Children and Families initially approved, then denied.

In presenting the bill, Overdorf said the safety of foster parents is “of the utmost importance.”

“Foster parents have expressed to the DCF their concerns with having their names released to the public,” Overdorf said. “Many of them say they would no longer wish to serve as foster parents if their names were in fact released.”

The measure would exempt the names of foster parents, their spouses, their minor children and any other household members from Florida’s public records laws.

Critics said the bill would do little to protect foster parents. In a public letter to the bill’s sponsors released Tuesday, First Amendment Foundation president Barbara Petersen called for the measure to be withdrawn.

“We don’t have to look hard to find story after story of foster parents who abused children in their care or instances in which the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) was lax in protecting those children and overseeing those entrusted with their care,” Petersen wrote.

Under Florida statutes, the addresses, birth dates, medical records, photographs and home floor plans of foster parents are already confidential.

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