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Child Advocacy Blog


Welcome to Florida Child Advocate

October 17th, 2013   No Comments   Abuse, Adoption, Advocacy

(Scroll Beyond This Introduction to Read the Latest Blog Post)

Thousands of foster children, former foster children, developmentally disabled and medically needy children are part of the Florida child care system. If you’re currently or formerly a child in – or an advocate for or parent of a child in the foster care system, Florida Child Advocate is here to help.

Every year, thousands of foster children, medically needy children, or those physically abused, sexually abused, the victims of personal injury,  legal damages, and pain and suffering are left to seek solutions on their own. No child should go through this on his or her own. And for the almost 500 who have died while under state watch, they deserved better.

This site was created by the law firm of Talenfeld Law, which was founded by nationally known Florida child advocate Howard Talenfeld, the preeminent children’s rights attorneys focusing exclusively on protecting the rights of physically and sexually abused children, developmentally disabled children and other at-risk children. Florida Child Advocate is dedicated to protecting children and addressing key issues facing those with foster care, physical abuse, child sexual abuse, social services, dependency, disability or personal injury and damages claims or lawsuits against the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF), lead agencies, community based care providers, and other child welfare providers.

We believe that children belong with their own families. However, we also believe that when protective investigations by the Florida DCF and its agencies reveal that children are at high risk of neglect, child sex abuse or physical abuse by their parents, they must be placed with suitable relatives when they are available, and if not, some children must be placed in foster care. Critically, if children are going to be taken into foster care, they should be protected by the Florida Department of Children & Families and their community partners from the risk of physical and sexual abuse and returned home or placed in loving and nurturing adoptive families as quickly as possible. Topics also include the rights of foster Children to be safe from harm in care, their right to medical, psychological care, and disability benefits, their educational rights, and their rights on the road to independence.

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3 Tips to Avoid Abuse by Youth Sports Coaches: See Something, Say Something

August 14th, 2015   No Comments   Abuse, Advocacy, Commentary

The news media recently reported about a youth league baseball coach being arrested – for at least a second time – for molesting children under his supervision. He was identified as a longtime coach with a South Florida Optimist Club. Parents had allowed the coach to have unsupervised sleepovers with a player from his team, “despite the multiple previous arrests involving molestation on his record,” the media reported.

The previous arrests led to no convictions, so background checks the league says it performed came up clean.

That is not good enough. Parents with children in youth sports or cheerleading programs must be vigilant in protecting their children from physical abuse, sexual abuse and the harm from predators.

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Leading Child Abuse Attorney Howard Talenfeld Named a 2015 Civil Rights Super Lawyer

August 8th, 2015   No Comments   Advocacy

Fort Lauderdale, Fla. – Howard M. Talenfeld, one of the nation’s preeminent children’s rights attorneys, was selected to the Florida Super Lawyers Magazine’s 2015 Civil Rights Super Lawyers list. Only five percent of attorneys in Civil Rights Law are awarded this honor. Talenfeld has also been named in the “Top 100: 2014 Miami Super Lawyers” list, which recognizes attorneys garnering the highest point totals in the Florida nomination, research and review process.

Talenfeld is the Founder and Managing Partner of Talenfeld Law, the first law firm in Florida to focus exclusively on protecting the rights of physically and sexually abused, medically fragile, foster and other at-risk children. He is known throughout the legal community and national media as having established the nation’s premier children’s rights practice. His work on behalf of at-risk individuals has earned multimillion dollar awards and resulted in sweeping judicial and legislative reforms.

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Talenfeld Law Child Advocacy Lawyer Named Rising Star

July 27th, 2015   No Comments   News & Events

Talenfeld Law Partner Stacie Schmerling recently was recognized as a “Rising Star” by the Daily Business Review – the leading South Florida publication for the legal profession. A long-time child advocate who pursues cases of child abuse, sexual abuse, physical abuse perpetrated against children by organizations and institutions entrusted to care for them, Stacie was recognized as a South Florida lawyers under the age of 40 who is making a difference in the community and will continue to do so in the future. Read more here.

Stacie helped found Talenfeld Law after a successful career in child advocacy law and social services. She had been an associated in the Foster Care/Disabled Persons Damages Division of another law firm, where she practiced in the area of civil rights and child welfare.

She received a Certification in Child Advocacy from Montclair State University in 2002. This Post-Bachelor of Arts Certificate Program emphasized a multidisciplinary understanding of the child advocate’s role as seen through the disciplines of law, sociology and psychology.

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Like the Broward Bar Young Lawyers, Raise Money to Help Florida’s At-Risk Foster Kids

In our shared mission to help and protect children and foster children who are the victims of sex abuse, child abuse, emotional harm and other abuses, the Young Lawyers Section of the Broward County Bar Association has partnered with Florida’s Children First for a fundraising effort through August 1st.

For every FACEBOOK LIKE that the Young Lawyers section gets, they will donate $1 to FCF, up to $1500. Just:

1. Click HERE to access the Young Lawyers page
2. Click the like button of the Young Lawyers’ Facebook page

That’s it!

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Florida’s Children First Earns Prestigious Child Advocacy Award

Florida’s Children First, the premier statewide nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing the rights of at-risk children and youth, especially those in foster care, received from the Florida Bar Foundation the recipient of the 2015 Paul Doyle Children’s Advocacy Award for its “Counsel for Dependent Children with Special Needs” Project.

Through the passing of House Bill 561 last year, this project secured the right to counsel for dependent children in five categories. FCF and Florida Legal Services were also selected as second runner-up for the “Medicaid to Age 26” Project.

The awards were presented at Foundation’s 39th Annual Reception & Dinner at the Boca Raton Resort and Club.

“Since our beginning in 2002, Paul Doyle and the Foundation believed in FCF’s mission to seek legal representation for Florida’s most vulnerable children. To receive the Foundation’s most prestigious award is the highest achievement that we as an organization aspire to,” said Howard Talenfeld, president of FCF.

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Advocates Ask: Sarasota Girl Stabbed after DCF Knew of Family Risks?

Florida child advocates and attorneys who fight for the rights of abused, neglected and physically abused and sexually abused children are awaiting more information following the stabbing of a young Sarasota, Florida, girl, allegedly at the hand of her mother.

The 6-year-old girl was left fighting for her life in the hospital. Meanwhile, her mother, Ashley Parker, was jailed on charges of attempted murder. In late June, Sarasota police were called to the family home to find the daughter stabbed in the stomach and legs. The child’s “insides were hanging out with Band-Aids on her stomach,” according to police reports.

To those who know the family, this isn’t the first time the authorities have had to respond to the family’s home. Some reportedly believe that the Florida Department of Children and Families should have done more and ultimately failed the young girl.

“What I really think they should’ve did is took the little girl out of the house,” a neighbor told the news media. “The little girl would go to crying and shaking and stuff like that she was very afraid of her.”

DCF reportedly isn’t saying much. Some recall the case of Phoebe Jonchuck, the 5-year-old whose father threw her off a bridge into Tampa Bay. Her father, who later was charged with her murder, was known to be a risk to the child.

If the Department of Children and Families knew of problems in the Parker household, then questions will arise anew about what DCF officials knew, when they knew it, and – if they failed to act – why the girl was left in harm’s way.

Florida Child Abuse Attorney Named ‘Super Lawyer’

Howard Talenfeld, the premier child abuse attorney and child sexual abuse lawyer who represents abused, disabled and injured kids, has been named a South Florida “Super Lawyer.” Talenfeld won the award for the civil rights category and is recognized as among the top attorneys in Florida.

Super Lawyers is a rating service of outstanding lawyers from more than 70 practice areas who have attained a high-degree of peer recognition and professional achievement. The selection process includes independent research, peer nominations and peer evaluations.
Super Lawyers Magazine features the list and profiles of selected attorneys and is distributed to attorneys in the state or region and the ABA-accredited law school libraries. Super Lawyers is also published as a special section in leading city and regional magazines across the country. In the United States, Super Lawyers Magazine is published in all 50 states and Washington, D.C., reaching more than 13 million readers.

Since the 1980s, Talenfeld has focused his practice exclusively on protecting the rights of vulnerable individuals in civil rights cases, personal injury cases and systemic reform litigation. He has litigated cases that have resulted in multimillion dollar settlements and jury verdicts that changed how governmental and private institutions care for children and the elderly.

As one of America’s leading children’s rights, injury, and child disability attorneys representing the needs of abused and neglected children, especially in cases of foster child abuse, child sexual abuse, child rape, and other harm and abuse of children in the child welfare system, Talenfeld’s work has resulted in multimillion dollar damage awards and has created systemic change in how government agencies and private institutions care for those vulnerable individuals.

He began his career involving at-risk children, seniors and the developmentally disabled in the 1980s and 1990s, when he represented the state of Florida in its major class-action lawsuits dealing with the foster care system, children’s mental health system, juvenile justice system, state psychiatric hospitals and the provision of Medicaid services to the developmentally disabled, among others.

Former Foster Kids Highlighted in NBC6 Forever Family Profile

June 3rd, 2015   No Comments   Advocacy

Florida’s Children First, the state’s premier advocacy organization supporting foster children state-wide, strives to work closely with other groups and services that highlight the challenges and successes of foster kids throughout Florida. FCF thanks Forever Family, Gia Tutalo-Mote and their affiliates for documenting Florida Youth SHINE’s efforts this year to bring awareness to the issues that affect our foster youth.

In the video below, NBC6, which often features a child waiting in foster care to be adopted, recently introduced viewers to three remarkable former foster kids, who were never adopted, but who have taken their fight for children’s right all the way to Tallahassee.

Team 6’s Gia Tutalo-Mote was right there with them.

Forever Family news stories and on-air promotions highlight children in foster care who are searching for adoptive families, teens ‘aging out’ of foster care, and issues relating to the the American foster care crisis. These stories air on major broadcast television stations and are crafted to engage and motivate the public to action.

Florida Child Advocates Offer Summer Safety Tips

As the school year comes to a close, families throughout the state will be seeking programs to ensure their children are safe while the parents work. With many kids each year becoming the victims of child abuse by caregivers, sitters and employees of summer camps, the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) is warning families to take precautions. Below are tips and reminders to help parents keep their children safe during the summer season.

The campaign explores three common areas: choosing a summer camp, finding a caregiver, and ensuring your child is safe around water.

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Florida’s Child Advocates See End to Needless Foster Child Deaths

May 21st, 2015   No Comments   Advocacy

To any advocate or attorney who works to protect abused children, neglected kids or others at harm, when a foster child or any youngster dies under the care of his family or the watch of a state agency or organization tasked with his or her care, that epitomizes a “needless” child death. Three organizations have banded together to highlight the worst examples of preventable child deaths – shaken baby syndrome, co-sleeping and drowning.

“These are very tragic situations that are preventable,” said one child services administrator behind the new Tampa Bay area campaign to address preventing the three most common ways kids under 5 are dying in large numbers. Learn more at www.preventneedlessdeaths.com.

“It’s a great time to launch this campaign to get the attention of parents as we approach the summer months, the vacation time. Families are going to be vacationing in hotels at their favorite vacation spot and there’s going to be bodies of water there and children need to be watched closely.”

Learn even more by clicking here.

The campaign is a collaboration between the Department of Children and Families, the Children’s Board, Eckerd Community Alternatives and the Juvenile Welfare Board. We all can learn from the initiative.

New Times: Boy Sues Community Firms, State Agency for Failing to Vet Foster Parent

For want of a criminal and personal background check, a young child was allegedly sexually abused by a foster parent after being placed in the man’s care by contracted providers, welfare providers Kids in Distress Inc. and ChildNet Inc. The two companies were hired by the Florida Department of Children and Families to vet foster parents and place children. Instead, all three – as well as the foster parent, whom the child claims sexually abused him.

“According to the lawsuit, the child — identified only as R.S. — claims 56-year-old John Michael McGuigan of Broward County sexually abused him while the child was under his care. But the lawsuit says there were multiple glaring red flags the agencies failed to see when McGuigan applied to become a Florida foster parent in 2008,” writes Broward New Times.

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WFOR-TV News: ‘Broward County Florida Foster Child is Suing the Agency That Was Supposed to Protect Him’

May 8th, 2015   No Comments   Abuse, Court Cases

Florida foster child abuse attorney Howard Talenfeld holds a press conference after filing a lawsuit on behalf of a foster child who claims he was groomed and sexually abused by an alleged known child molester-turned-foster parent. The lawsuit was filed against the alleged abuser and child welfare providers Kids In Distress, Inc., and ChildNet, Inc., in Broward County, Florida, circuit court.

The suit alleges the private child welfare agencies failed to appropriately conduct standard background checks before granting the defendant a foster parent license.

In the lawsuit, the child, R.S., claims he was subjected to sexual abuse by defendant Michael McGuigan, allegedly a known child molester. Other defendants Kids In Distress and ChildNet are private companies contracted by the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) to implement and oversee child safety, welfare and foster placement services. The case was filed in Broward County Circuit Court on behalf of R.S. by his next friend, David Bazerman.

“Child advocate and attorney Howard Talenfeld says Kids In Distress failed to protect a foster child that he says was molested,” the reporter comments. “In a lawsuit filed against the agencies which are contracted to provide child welfare services in Broward County, he says the foster parents had been investigated by police agencies for abuse but whenever charged.”