[Tallahassee] – The Florida Guardian ad Litem Program is honoring Rep. Spencer Roach of North Fort Myers as its “House Member of the Year” for his leadership in sponsoring a bill designed to reduce the amount of time abused and neglected children spend in foster care.
Gov. Ron DeSantis signed that bill on Tuesday. A top priority of the Florida Guardian ad Litem Program, which represents children in dependency court proceedings, the “A Year is a Long Time in the Life of a Child Act” garnered strong backing from the Legislature. It passed both chambers unanimously after passionate speeches by Rep. Roach and his Senate counterpart, Sen. Ben Albritton of Wauchula.
Senate Bill 262/House Bill 421 aims to improve communication and accountability in the dependency process so that maltreated children can reach safe, permanent homes within one year. That could mean reunification with the parents, adoption or placement with a permanent guardian, such as a relative.
The measure requires parents whose children have been placed in the dependency system to be referred for services within seven days. They must keep their contact information current and notify the court of any barriers to completing their case plans. The Department of Children and Families must anticipate barriers and give parents strategies to overcome them, and also must make sure parents get updated contact information if the caseworker on the child’s case changes.
To illustrate the need, Rep. Roach – one of Guardian ad Litem’s 10,000-plus volunteers – told House members he’d recently heard of a young boy in his district whose first month in the foster system was spent in a different home each night.
“I’d like you to think about that – a four-year-old child, 30 days, 30 different homes,” he said. “Can you imagine the trauma to that little boy? That is unacceptable and no child should have to endure that.”
Spencer Roach is a retired Coast Guard JAG Officer who attended Edison Community College and Florida Gulf Coast University; while serving on active duty, he graduated summa cum laude from FGCU. He is licensed to practice law in Florida and Texas. After retiring from the Coast Guard in 2016, he returned to Lee County, where he serves as a volunteer Guardian ad Litem for the 20th Judicial Circuit. He calls helping children in foster care his passion. While in law school, he managed a program that taught financial literacy to children aging out of foster care.
“As a lawmaker, Rep. Roach has been as tireless in his advocacy for children as he was before,” said Guardian ad Litem Executive Director Alan Abramowitz. “He knew how much his bill was needed.”
“The citizens and children of Florida are fortunate to have someone like Spencer advocating for them on the legislative level,” said Holly Rodriguez, Guardian ad Litem’s Circuit Director for the 20th Judicial Circuit. “It is an honor and privilege to have someone so passionate and genuine as a champion for children.”
Rep. Roach told fellow lawmakers that 24,000 children are languishing in Florida’s foster care system.
“With your vote today,” he said, “I’d like you to indicate to these 24,000 children that they’ve been heard and help is on the way.”
They did. “A Year is a Long Time in the Life of a Child” passed every committee and floor vote unanimously.
To learn more about the Guardian ad Litem Program or to become a volunteer, visit GuardianadLitem.org or call 1-866-341-1425.