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I-Team: Task force recommends changes to Florida's guardianship system

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Florida's Guardianship Improvement Task Force meets in Tallahassee (FL Clerks).{ }

Florida's Guardianship Improvement Task Force has come up with a list of recommendations to enhance transparency and reduce abuse in the guardianship system.

Guardians, known in some states as conservators, have come under heightened scrutiny in recent months due in part to pop star Britney Spears and her fight to end her conservatorship.

For months, the CBS12 News I-Team has been investigating guardianship abuse in Florida, showing how some guardians isolate, neglect, and even steal money from the people they are supposed to protect.

Guardians are appointed by the court to manage the affairs of someone who can no longer care for themselves. It's a system that is supposed to protect our most vulnerable and their assets. Critics say guardians are given too much power, without proper accountability. And too often, they can mismanage their wards' lives.

After dozens of stories about bad actors in Florida's guardianship program, the task force is honing in on a few key areas for reform, and hoping lawmakers adopt the following changes, and more:

  • Creating of a statewide guardianship database
  • Establishing court monitors in every circuit
  • Improving education and training for everyone involved in the guardianship
  • Requiring judges to consider less restrictive options, like supported decision making, before creating a guardianship
  • Asking the legislature to create an on-going guardianship task force
  • Removing the term "ward" from statute and replacing it with "person under guardianship"
  • Creating uniform paperwork

Task Force member Hillary Hogue told CBS12 News she thinks these recommendations are a good start, but don't go far enough. One idea she wanted to see included was giving wards the right to family visitation. Her father was placed in a guardianship, and she had to relentlessly fight for him to get his rights back.

In order for the task force recommendations to become a reality, lawmakers have to take their suggestions and pass new legislation. Hogue is optimistic changes will be coming.

"People are starting to be well informed about what's going on," she said. "I do really feel optimistic. And this is the time, more so than any other day, that we will be pushing as hard as possible [for change]."