Tallahassee, Florida] - Today, Florida Governor Rick Scott signed into law the Regis Little Act to Protect Children with Special Needs, which ensures vulnerable foster youth have a guardian in place at age 18.
In 2008, Regis Little was a child of Florida’s foster care system. With an IQ of 65, he was bipolar, hyperactive, and aggressive. He hated being alone and was afraid of the dark. Upon turning 18, Regis walked out of foster care and died alone in a parking lot after being stabbed over a stolen beer.
Governor Rick Scott said, “This legislation will help provide Florida’s young men and women with disabilities the tools to succeed as they transition into adulthood. I want to thank Representative Janet Adkins and Senator Nancy Detert for working to improve the quality of life for families across Florida through their work this legislative session.”
“Regis Little, a young man who needed the protection of a guardian but died tragically, was a call for help from all of Florida’s dependent children with disabilities. A call for help that was answered after much hard work by many dedicated child welfare advocates,” said Florida Guardian ad Litem Office Executive Director Alan Abramowitz. “Thank you Governor Scott for signing the Regis Little Act to Protect Children with Special Needs – it will provide the voice that vulnerable youth need as they reach adulthood.
Vulnerable young adults who leave the foster care system without a guardian are subject to a variety of safety issues. Unless a court appoints a guardian, they can simply walk away from their housing, or be exploited by unscrupulous people. Guardians help young adults make crucial life decisions.
ADVOCATES REACT TO THE “REGIS LITTLE ACT”
“An important part of our work with foster youth is helping them transition into adulthood with resources and tools to help them succeed, “This legislation will provide foster youth with developmental challenges the critical additional support they need in making decisions that may have a long-term impact on their lives as adults.” Department of Children and Families Secretary Mike Carroll
“The Florida Legislature, child advocacy professionals, the Governor, and Floridians from every walk of life should be proud that the Regis Little Act to Protect Children with Special Needs has been signed by Governor Scott. Now children with disabilities can be appointed a guardian before they turn 18. Our most vulnerable children deserve all the protection we can provide – I thank all who had a part in this important law passing.” Florida Senator Nancy Detert
“What could be more important than protecting children with disabilities? When Regis Little died, we were left wondering if he had a guardian before he turned 18, could his life have been spared? Of course, we will never know the answer, but with the passage of the Regis Little Act to Protect Children with Special Needs, we are ensuring that children in need of a guardian have one in place before they turn 18 – giving these young adults an added protection during a very vulnerable time for them.” Florida Representative Janet Adkins
“I am very happy Gov. Scott signed this important bill today. We need to do all we can to assist young adults with disabilities as they transition to adulthood and make life lasting decisions. This measure will ensure young people in need will have a guardian to look out for their interests and help them through the sometimes complicated legal system. I applaud everyone involved who helped to make this happen.” Agency for Persons with Disabilities Director Barbara Palmer
“The passage of the Regis Little Act to Protect Children with Special Needs is firm proof that the State of Florida is determined to ensure that every Floridian, from the mighty to the most vulnerable, has the opportunity to live the very best life possible. The law, which implements a mechanism to secure a guardian or guardian advocate for developmentally delayed foster children before they turn age 18, means the possibility of life-long security, happiness, and fulfillment for these deserving youth. As a Floridian and child advocate, I am appreciative of the bill’s quick passage and am optimistic about the tremendous benefits this law will yield for foster children throughout the state.” Bethanie Barber, Guardian ad Litem Program Director, Legal Aid Society of the Orange County Bar Association, Inc.
“The Florida Sheriffs Association is pleased Florida will now have a framework for identifying and appointing guardian advocates for developmentally disabled children within the dependency system who may require decision-making assistance beyond their 18th birthday. Protecting this vulnerable population with additional safeguards will reduce the likelihood of unscrupulous people’s attempts to take financial advantage of them after they become legal adults.” Sheriff David Shoar, President of the Florida Sheriffs Association
“We are so happy that the Governor signed this important legislation that will protect children who may need additional supports prior to them turning 18.” Executive Director Christina Spudeas, Florida’s Children First
“Finally.” William Booth, Esq. Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County
“I am thrilled that the Regis Little Act will now protect our most vulnerable foster youth by providing a process that not only protects them in the least restrictive way but also provides for the appointment of an appropriate guardian when necessary. I have been honored to be on the planning team led by Alan Abramowitz and the Guardian ad Litem Program.” Sharon Langer, Development Director Disability Independence Group Inc.
“The Florida Developmental Disabilities Council is pleased that children in foster care who need some form of guardianship assistance will be able to get that assistance upon reaching adulthood and that there are safeguards in place to assure the least restrictive assistance that they need including reconsideration of a guardianship before a young adult leaves extended foster care.” Margaret J. Hooper, MSW, Public Policy Coordinator, Florida Developmental Disabilities Council, Inc. (FDDC)
“This is a great step forward. Our most vulnerable children are those who have disabilities and are turning 18 without families to guide them. Regis Little was one of those children. If we had the procedural protections of this bill, Regis may not have died in such a tragic way in July 2009.” Gerry Glynn, Chief Legal Officer, Community Based Care of Central Florida; Member of the Regis Little Task Force
“This bill might be the most important bill that passed this session. It will save lives and keep vulnerable young adults safe. It wouldn’t have passed without the leadership of Alan Abramowitz and the Guardian ad Litem Office and volunteers who help and protect Florida’s children every day.” Ted Granger, President United Way of Florida
“We are very happy to see this important Bill signed into law as it serves to protect the most vulnerable children aging out of the dependency system. By allowing guardians to be appointed prior to their 18th birthday, we can ensure that the needs of our developmentally disabled or incapacitated children are protected. Grainne O’Sullivan, Statewide Director of Children’s Legal Services
Children deserve love, protection, and guidance, especially if they do not have the ability to take care of themselves,” said Nelson F. Hincapie, President and CEO of Voices For Children Foundation. “I am relieved to know that children with special needs who age out of the foster care system will now have guardian in place. Thank you to everyone who supported the “Regis Little Act to Protect Children with Special Needs.”
“This bill is the embodiment of what can happen when all of the dedicated advocates for children work together,” said Florida Coalition for Children CEO Kurt Kelly. “The Regis Little Act is a shining example of how we can work together to pass significant and impactful legislation that better protects children and youth in Florida.”
The Regis Little Act is yet another bold step in the right direction – along with others already made over the past several years - improving services and outcomes for Florida’s foster care children. The progress being made is highly commendable. Roy Miller, President, The Children’s Campaign