In this last post of our three-part series on nonparent family members and child custody, we discuss shelter care. Shelter care is the protective placement of a child to live outside of their parental home because the child is in danger there. Florida judges consider extended family members for shelter care when it would be in the child’s best interest.
Florida law allows “shelter placement” – meaning residential placement outside the home either in an appropriate institutional setting or a residential setting – if needed to keep the child safe. The law has many procedural safeguards that favor returning a child to their home if they can stay out of danger there such as through supportive government service. The law also prefers limiting the time they can be in shelter care.
Child placement pending shelter hearing
When a child has been “abandoned, abused, or neglected” by their parents or by someone else caring for them, or the child is at risk of this happening, they are called a “dependent child,” meaning vulnerable to harm in their current circumstances. If government services cannot stabilize the home environment, authorities may remove the child from the home for the child’s safety. Authorities must find a safe place for the child to receive care pending a shelter hearing.
The parents must give authorities contact information for the child’s “next of kin.” If it would be in the child’s best interests, authorities may release the child to a “responsible adult relative,” who has priority – if in the child’s best interest – over someone who is not related to the child. The relative, however, must have a criminal background check.
After authorities have removed the child from their residence and placed them into temporary shelter care, the judge after a shelter hearing will determine whether the child can safely go home or whether a longer-term shelter placement is in their best interest. The parents must give the judge the names of any relatives who “might be considered as a placement for the child.” In fact, the parents have an ongoing duty to let authorities know of family members whom the court should consider.
If it is in the child’s best interest, the judge will order the child placed in shelter care and this can be with a nonparent family member. The parents will in the meantime have a case plan to work toward that would create a safe home for the child and the parents may have to pay child support to the sheltered care provider. If the parents do not comply with the plan, they could lose their parental rights and the shelter placement could become permanent.
A Floridian concerned about the home safety of a child to whom they are related should talk to an attorney about providing shelter care to that child. On the other side, a parent facing potential removal of their child from the home or preparing for a shelter hearing or case plan should speak with a lawyer to understand their rights and responsibilities as concerns their child, including seeking legal representation at the shelter hearing.