State Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, R-Miami (Pic by Meredith Geddings, via myfloridahouse.gov)

A large number of changes to child protection rules under the Department of Children and Families cleared its final commitee in the House last Thursday with praise for its sponsor: state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, R-Miami.

Among the major provisions in CS/HB 803, the bill creates stricter standards for vetting prospective foster parents and refines the abuse hotline, dependency and investigation processes.

The central abuse hotline will be allowed to accept calls from parents or custodians beyond the criteria of abandonment, abuse or neglect (called Special Condition Referrals). An electronic file will be used to centralize and share reports, and the department is granted greater freedom in filing a dependency petition.

Committee members voted unanimously for the bill, commending Diaz for his efforts in such a controversial area.

“I have never seen a bill this clean and reasonable in this institution, ever,” said Brian Pitts of Justice to Jesus, who often testifies in opposition.

State Rep. Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach, suggested Diaz was motivated by the Barahona case a year ago, when a mishandled foster case lead to the brutal murder of 10-year-old Nubia Barahona and hospitalization of her brother Victor by their adoptive parents.

The Department of Children and Families was criticized in “The Nubia Report” (pdf.) by an independent panel. The report found ineptitude in handling red flags, and calls to the abuse hotline, a centralized system to share information and critical thinking to be areas where the department could improve.

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