More access to KidCare, justice reforms top legislative priorities for kids | Opinion

·3 min read

The 2022 Florida Legislative Session started in the second of week of January, and as always, there are a number of bills that could greatly impact the lives of children and families across the state, and, of course, in Miami-Dade County.

As part of its mission, The Children’s Trust advocates on behalf of the children of the county, and this year our legislative priorities involve KidCare insurance eligibility requirements, juvenile justice issues that seek to lessen the stigma of youth who have completed diversion programs, the revamping of background screening checks, and increasing high-quality early education options for vulnerable children and families. The Children’s Trust’s legislative agenda and priorities are focused on those items that will improve the lives of children and families in Miami-Dade.

Here’s a look at some of those concerns:

KidCare eligibility requirements: Even before the pandemic, the number of uninsured children in Florida represented a major problem — with one report from 2019 showing that there were more than 320,000 uninsured children in our state, which represents more than 7.5 percent of all kids in Florida. The Florida KidCare program offers children and families low-cost insurance options based upon income and this year the Florida legislature will consider a bill to increase the income eligibility threshold for coverage under Florida KidCare. This, in turn, will assist in offsetting what is known as the “benefits cliff” — a situation that sometimes results in families no longer qualifying for affordable KidCare when they increase their earnings.

Expunging of criminal records for children in certain cases: Every year, thousands of children and youth in Florida face the difficulties of moving forward with productive lives, if they have a criminal record. Those problems continue into adulthood, as the stigma of a criminal past may present additional obstacles when trying to find jobs, housing or being accepted into higher education institutions.

To increase the chance of a more viable transition into adulthood, the state House and Senate are considering legislation that would require the Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) to expunge the nonjudicial arrest record of certain minors who successfully complete a diversion program for specified felony offenses, rather than only for misdemeanor offenses as it stands now.

Background screening checks: To better protect Florida’s children, The Children’s Trust supports legislation that would align background screening statutes and processes. By unifying this process, it would allow individual background screenings to be portable across organizations, align definitions, exemptions and define a standardized appeal process. This would also provide the state with the ability to apply one set of sanctions for noncompliance and develop a comprehensive system aimed at protecting youth. The intent is to ensure that all programs that serve children are safely vetted.

Increased access to school readiness and early learning programs: The lifelong benefits of early learning for children are well documented, and the essential role of early learning providers in everyday life was made even more clear during the pandemic. Still, wages for early learning professionals are low, leading to high turnover and staff shortages.

The Trust greatly prioritizes early childhood investments and initiatives, collectively known as “Thrive by 5.” Still, we know more must be done in this area. That is why we are supportive of a bill that seeks to formalize increased payment rates to school readiness providers to more closely align to each community’s cost of care. The intent is to ensure all of Miami-Dade’s children, especially vulnerable child populations, can access high-quality early learning.

As the legislative session continues, The Children’s Trust will monitor the progress of these bills and others that impact the well-being of our children and families. To keep up to date on the progress in Tallahassee on behalf of children, sign up for Capitol Connection, a weekly newsletter that tracks the progress of our legislative priorities and those of the Florida Alliance of Children’s Councils and Trusts (FACCT) by visiting www.TheChildrensTrust.org.

Amanda Gorski is The Children’s Trust’s Associate Director of Public Policy. She has extensive experience in advocacy, public policy, research, and issue identification for nonprofits and government agencies.

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