FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. /Florida Newswire/ -– Governor Charlie Crist today signed legislation that benefits children in foster care as well as young people leaving foster care. Senate Bill 126 provides children in foster care better access to their own personal records often needed for medical and educational purposes. Senate Bill 1128 ensures that disabled homeless children and children in foster care receive appropriate educational services.

“Today, we are helping children in foster care achieve their dreams for the future,” Governor Crist said. “We are removing barriers that have hindered young people leaving foster care from entering college or getting a job. And we are ensuring that children with disabilities in foster care – or who are homeless – have an advocate to speak for them and ensure their educational needs are met.”

Senate Bill 126, sponsored by Senator Paula Dockery and Representative Peter Nehr, provides current and former foster children, as well as foster parents and guardian relatives, access to a child’s personal records. In addition, the Department of Children and Families will be required to keep complete and accurate records of children entering the foster care system accessible until they reach their 30th birthday, making it possible for former foster children to access their own information for education or employment reasons to help them make a seamless transition to adulthood.

This legislation will also allow the state to provide more coordinated services to children in foster care by allowing state and local agencies that provide such services to share information while maintaining the confidentiality of that information. Potential foster and adoptive parents will have adequate information regarding children they are considering adopting or caring for, increasing opportunities for successful placements.

Governor Crist also signed Senate Bill 1128, sponsored by Senator Nan Rich and Representative Kurt Kelly. The legislation ensures that Florida’s disabled homeless children and children in foster care have a designated advocate to make educational decisions on their behalf. Throughout the student’s K-12 education, a representative of the school district, or a surrogate parent appointed by the court will advocate for the child. An advocate capable of making decision is assigned to each child, providing continuity that previously has not existed. The Department of Education and the Department of Children and Families will collaborate to achieve this goal.

“I am proud of the hard work of Senator Nan Rich and Representative Kurt Kelly to ensure Florida’s disabled children are given greater opportunities to succeed in the classroom,” said Governor Crist. “The future of our students and state is brighter as a result of this legislation.”

The bill signing ceremony took place at Children’s Services Council of Broward County with representatives of Florida’s Children First Inc. and Florida Youth SHINE in attendance. Florida’s Children First Inc. is a non-profit legal services organization that founded Florida Youth SHINE to ensure that the voices of youth are heard in public policy debates to improve child protection and foster care services.