For the most part, the general air around politics is pretty abysmal. The atmosphere is suffocated with vitriol. And if we’re honest, it’s been that way for quite some time.

Laws are increasingly being written in Congress and most state legislatures as pointed jabs at the opposing party. The idea of lawmaking as a means to the betterment of constituents’ lives has been usurped by a zero-sum game focused on hot-button topics that generally nobody really understands.

It’s a devastating blow to American democracy.

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But all hope is not lost. There are some lawmakers still in the fight to see good things happen for the people they represent; to make the country a better place to live; to see more equity and better outcomes for those who have the least agency in society.

And that’s a breath of fresh air.

Take into consideration the newly passed state law, Senate Bill 7034, Child Welfare, a bill that increases support for foster parents, non-parental relatives and family friends of children who are removed from their homes, and expands educational opportunities for kids who are in the system during their teenage years.

The unanimous decision by Florida State legislators to increase monthly subsidies for fall those caring for children in the foster system is a glowing beacon of hope that our politicians can still work on behalf of the most vulnerable in society.

Since 2019, the state has added over 4,000 foster families – an incredibly progressive step in the right direction, given that the need for out-of-home placement for children is a constant battle of insufficient resources, both human and economic.

The step to improve the level of benefits given to both relative caregivers and foster parents makes a huge difference when people consider whether or not they can take on such an important role. The increase is important for a couple of reasons. First, relative caregivers will now receive the same level of financial aid as foster parents – an increase for family members that would bring them an extra $250-$320 more every month.

The second thing is that family friends who take in a vulnerable child also receive this financial aid. That’s a big deal. Previously, a child placed with a family friend was not eligible for financial aid from the state.

Oftentimes family friends are the best placement for kids in crisis. Relative caregivers aren’t always in the best position to be of assistance to children who are removed from their parents’ custody. Rather than being placed in foster care, family friends can offer stability and familiarity. But under the previous policy, non-relative placements were not funded by the state.So while family friends may have been willing to take on the responsibility of caring for another child, the financial burden was often too great, thus hindering many people from being able to participate in the best option for the child.

Doing more to keep in pace with inflation and rising costs, placing relative caregiver stipends on par with foster parent stipends, and creating more space for non-relative caregivers to be a part of the process is a step to ensure that children removed from their homes are better supported through one of the most traumatic times in their lives.

The bill also reorganizes the structure in place that gives children who have interacted with the foster care system more access to university and college tuition and fee help, as well, as support for workforce education programs. These exemptions were initially available only to children who were in foster care when they turned 18. Now children adopted out of foster care or who spend a considerable portion of their teenage years in foster care are eligible for the support.

In a political and social climate that seems to be increasingly divided and polarized, actions like this should serve as reminders to us that we can do what is best for others; we can consider the most vulnerable in society and treat them with dignity and respect; we can work together for the greater good.

Cortney Stewart is a Lecanto High graduate with political science, international affairs, and intercultural studies degrees who has lived and worked around the world.

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