House Bill 7065 (HB 7065) unanimously passed the Florida House late Wednesday evening, seeking to enact a wide-ranging series of measures to promote father engagement in the lives of children and prioritize resources through the Department of Children and Families (DCF) to help current and former foster system children.
A chief effort of the bill would direct the department to contract for the production of the “Responsible Fatherhood Initiative,” partnering with a yet-to-be-decided company to launch a website and circulate materials that would inform fathers on effective parenting. The fatherhood initiative would include a print, television, and social media campaign to serve as public service announcements.
“From poverty to crime to incarceration, just about every negative outcome we see that faces boys here in Florida and across the country, can be linked back to an absent father in the home,” said House Speaker Chris Sprowls.
Under the bill, DCF would additionally be required to award grants to non-profit organizations to address the needs of fathers. To exemplify, the bill would require that grants be geared toward helping fathers in seeking employment, managing child support obligations, transitioning from a period of incarceration, accessing health care, understanding child development, and enhancing parenting skills.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, children from fatherless homes account for:
- 63 percent of youth suicides
- 90 percent of all homeless and runaway youths
- 85 percent of all children that exhibit behavioral disorders 71 percent of all high school dropouts
- 70 percent of juveniles in state-operated institutions
- 75 percent of adolescent patients in substance abuse centers
Senate President Wilton Simpson placed child welfare as one of his principal concerns for the ongoing 2022 Legislative Session, making a vow in his opening remarks to amend the risk children living in homes without fathers face.
“The earlier in life we can give a child a safe permanent home, the better opportunities that child will have for the rest of their lives,” said Simpson, who was adopted as a child and grew up in a house with foster children,” said Simpson. “Costs of early childhood care are consistently identified as one of the biggest barriers for would-be foster families. We will address the gap between what the voucher pays and the actual costs of early childhood care. We need to make sure more children raised by their foster relatives have access to the waiver.”
Wilton went on to endorse the House bill on Wednesday.
A similar bill, Senate Bill 1708 (SB 1708), was drafted by Sen. Ileana Garcia and is now working its way through appropriations. The bill seeks to actualize similar measures as HB 7065, also adding the stipulation that homeless youth and young adults would be able to receive a waiver to bypass the fees related to obtaining their birth certificate.