April 28, 2021 — Two bills by Senator Lauren Book (D-Plantation) which will reform the child welfare system and correct an information gap which leaves youth-serving organizations vulnerable to adults who have sexually abused minors were passed unanimously by the Florida Senate today and will now head to the Governor’s desk for signing into law.
The first, SB 96, is a Committee bill from Children, Family, and Elder Affairs, Chaired by Senator Book. The bill seeks to strengthen abuse reporting requirements, provide additional supports for foster parents, establish multidisciplinary legal representation for parents and children in the dependency system, require critical incident rapid response teams to investigate child sexual abuse allegations, and more.
“No system is perfect, but when it comes to child safety, that’s exactly what we should strive for – because the alternative is simply unacceptable,” says Senator Book. “This comprehensive, bipartisan bill has been a labor of love for Senator Bean, Senator Rodriguez, Senator Rousson, myself, and Senate President Wilton Simpson, who has made child welfare a top priority this Session. I am grateful for this collaborative approach to ensure Florida’s most vulnerable children are protected.”
The second bill, SB 1508, known as “Serena’s Law” was inspired by a survivor of child sexual abuse who discovered that her perpetrator had passed background checks and was volunteering at organizations for at-risk youth – despite having a restraining order against him. Under current Florida law, when a minor is granted a restraining order against an adult for sexual abuse, these records are not searchable in court records and are therefore inaccessible through many background checks.
“Serena’s Law will keep children safe by making sure restraining orders for child sexual abuse show up in background checks,” says Senator Book. “The State of Florida must empower youth-serving organizations to do everything possible to keep predators at bay – including rigorous and complete vetting of employees and volunteers.”
In her comments on the Senate Floor, Senator Book – also a survivor of child sexual abuse – expressed thanks to Serena for bringing attention to the need for change, saying: “Serena’s Law was created in honor of an incredible young advocate who courageously shared her story not to make things different for herself, but as a vehicle to create change for others.”
April is recognized as both National Child Abuse Prevention Month and National Sexual Assault Awareness Month.