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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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Advocacy Group Names Child Abuse Attorney, Foster Child Lawyer Howard Talenfeld Named ‘Champion for Children’

January 28th, 2015   No Comments   Abuse, Advocacy, News & Events

Pioneering children’s rights attorney and child physical abuse and sexual abuse lawyer Howard Talenfeld was profiled recently for his being named a Champion for Children by Florida’s Children First, the state’s premier children’s advocacy organization.

Talenfeld was lauded for his career spent protecting for the rights of children abused, injured and harmed, whether in the child protective system or under the services of community based care organizations charged with protecting the state’s most vulnerable youth. Read the article here on Page 18.

Talenfeld and his team at Talenfeld Law / Justice For Kids have worked tirelessly to fight for the rights of these children, both in the courtroom and in the halls of the Florida Legislature.

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Child Advocates: Join Florida’s Children First for Broward Awards

January 15th, 2015   No Comments   Advocacy, News & Events

Fort Lauderdale, Broward County and Miami attorneys, foster abuse lawyers, child care guardians and those who advocate for Florida’s each abused, neglected and injured child are invited to attend the 2015 Broward Child Advocacy Awards & Reception. The annual event from Florida’s Children First, brings together people who care about children’s rights.

Registration has opened for the Broward Child Advocacy Awards & Reception.This year, the event will honor distinguished child advocates in the area and raise awareness for key child protection issues.

The event will be held on Thursday February 26, 2015, from 5:30pm to 7:30pm at a NEW LOCATION: The Riverside Hotel (620 East Las Olas Boulevard, Fort Lauderdale 33301).

Click Here to Register.

Click Here to download the event Flyer.

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Florida Child Advocates Debate Foster Homes vs. Group Homes for At-Risk Kids

January 13th, 2015   No Comments   Uncategorized

When the Florida Legislature’s Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability released a study in December on the price and value of placing the state’s at-risk, abused and troubled children in group homes versus foster homes, the findings were not surprising to some who fight to protect the rights and safety of at-risk youths.

The study found that group homes are more expensive than foster homes, yet only one in 10 kids removed from their families are placed with suitable foster situations, like with relatives, friends or foster homes.

Group homes can provide higher levels of professional attention, especially for the most troubled kids. Not all kids – or all kids’ needs – are the same.

The key is to find the balance and serve kids’ particular needs, as well as those of the foster parents who often struggle to provide a suitable, loving home, noted Christina Spudeas, executive director of Florida’s Children First. The organization is the state’s premier child advocacy group. Some kids are tough to place, even with caring foster parents willing to take on the task.

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Man Faces Death Penalty, Florida DCF Revises Rules, in Death of Phoebe Jonchuck

January 13th, 2015   No Comments   Abuse, Court Cases

Phoebe JonchuckChild advocates and children’s rights attorneys who fight to prevent child abuse and death of Florida’s at-risk children are concerned about the evolving case of Phoebe Jonchuck. During a court hearing, her father, Jon Jonchuck, had hoped his case would be “in God’s hands” but a court-appointed attorney now will help in the defense of the Florida man accused of throwing his 5-year-old daughter off a bridge to her death this month. If convicted, Jonchuck faces the death penalty.

Yet, even as the court case begins, the Florida Department of Children and Families has made several policy changes intended to change how state child welfare investigators respond to warnings of possible or impending child abuse or child neglect. The agency may also be called to answer how much it knew her to be at risk of harm, given it had previous interactions with the family.

Jonchuck reportedly had spoken to his attorney last week in advance of little Phoebe’s death. The attorney reportedly then called authorities to warn about the man’s strange behavior. When Hillsborough County Sheriff’s deputies arrived at his home, Jonchuck and Phoebe were acting normally, according to news reports.

Yet while all appeared normal, this wasn’t the first time DCF had visited Phoebe or the family, according to a release from the department.

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Death of Child After Warning to Abuse Hotline Spurs Changes to State Response

January 10th, 2015   No Comments   Abuse, News & Events

To those who advocate for greater protections for any child suffering physical abuse or threatened with harm, the episode this week when a young girl was thrown to her death off a Tampa Bay bridge raises questions and concerns. In the aftermath of the death of 5-year-old Phoebe Jonchuck, reportedly at the hands of her father, John Jonchuck, the Florida Department of Children and Families has reviewed and will change the criteria for how its child abuse hotline responds to calls and warnings of potentially abusive situations.

Police say Phoebe was thrown by her father off a bridge near Tampa Bay’s Sunshine Skyway after a call was received to the hotline earlier in the day. The caller, authorities said, “regarding the mental health of Phoebe’s father.” In the 2:45pm call, the caller, reportedly Jonchuck’s attorney, warned that John Jonchuck was “depressed and delusional.”

The call came after Jonchuck reportedly referred to his attorney as “God” and asked the woman to translate a Bible. The attorney’s calls to police and the state child abuse hotline led authorities to visit and interview Jonchuck. With Phoebe smiling and at his side, all appeared normal.

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Florida’s Child Advocates Laud Judge’s Ruling on Medical Costs for At-Risk Kids

January 2nd, 2015   No Comments   Advocacy, Commentary, Court Cases

In an important win for Florida’s most vulnerable children – and the doctors and advocates who serve them, a U.S. federal judge this week ruled that the state’s healthcare system for those children violates various federal laws. The move follows a decade-long battle by pediatricians who care for those kids, but have done so at fees sufficient to ensure adequate care.

In his ruling, US Circuit Judge Adalberto Jordan pediatricians and various specialists were subject to a Medicaid budget set by the state at an artificially low level. As a result, many of those doctors elected not to participate in the insurance program that serves the needy. Kids were receiving sub-par medical and dental care, or none at all, especially when families were forced to drive long distances to find doctors still participating in the state program.

“This is a great day for the children in this state,” Dr. Louis B. St. Petery, a Tallahassee pediatrician and executive vice president of the Florida Pediatric Society, told the Miami Herald. Dr. Petery helped spearhead the suit.

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Keep Florida’s Children First in Mind When Planning Your 2015 Giving

December 30th, 2014   No Comments   Adoption, Advocacy

If making life better for Florida’s abused, abandoned and neglected children is not already on your charitable priority list, consider Florida’s Children First. Thanks to the unwavering support of child advocates and supporters statewide, we’ve been able to help some of the 20,000 children in foster care who depend Florida’s Children First to make improvements in the system of care that make their lives better.

You can read here about our most recent accomplishments. But we need your help to continue our good work. Your donation to Florida’s Children First helps children who have been abused or neglected or abandoned, and your money is used wisely. Instead of asking you for a donation today, we are asking that you plan for the future and put Florida’s Children First in your 2015 Charitable Giving Budget.

There are three things that set us apart from the rest:

1. Our work is informed by the voice of the youth – listening to and promoting our youth advocacy organization, Florida Youth SHINE (current and former foster youth).

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Child Advocates: State Officials’ Lack of Transparency Places Foster Children at Risk

December 23rd, 2014   No Comments   Uncategorized

When a Miami Herald investigation, “Innocents Lost,” in spring 2014 revealed almost 500 children  had died while under the watch of the Florida Department of Children and Families and its contracted community based care providers, state child welfare officials promised kids, families, child advocates and child abuse lawyers who fight to protect the rights of abused children that changes would come. Now, another newspaper article questions if those promised changes and reforms have been shelved or shrouded in secrecy.

In its latest investigation, “Transparency Lost,” the paper has discovered that while DCF set aside nearly $50 million to investigators, the state legislature instituted laws designed to help ensure kids “in the system” are protected from abuse, and greater oversights were put in place, enactment and follow-through of those changes has been slow, even thwarted. 

Lawmakers stated that they wanted to see more openness from agency administrators, and mandated a website to track child deaths. DCF, in turn, vowed to learn from its mistakes, even if it meant enduring an occasional public relations beating,” the paper reported. DCF even promised following the deaths of six children shot this fall by their grandfather, “There will never be one child who dies without DCF working to determine what changes can be made or processes improved to prevent further tragedy.”

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Rep. Erik Fresen Honored at Florida’s Children First’s Annual Miami Fundraiser and Awards Ceremony

December 19th, 2014   No Comments   Advocacy

Florida’s Children First (FCF) recognized Miami-Dade County individuals for their tireless efforts to advocate for the state’s most vulnerable citizens at its annual Miami Reception at the Sabadell Financial Center on December 11, 2014. FCF is a statewide, nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting foster children and other at-risk youth.

Dozens of Miami-Dade County’s prominent business and community leaders, as well as citizens concerned about the future of Florida’s children, especially abused, abandoned and neglected children and youth, were in attendance.

This year, Rep. Erik Fresen, was named as Champion of Children’s Rights for his groundbreaking legislation that will provide attorneys the right to protect dependent children with disabilities who are in legal custody of the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF). He was also honored and for his continued fight for the rights of children in foster care. Rep. Fresen was the House sponsor for the Attorneys for Dependent Children with Special Needs bill (HB 561). This bill is the culmination of many years of advocacy for representation for children and has been the core mission of Florida’s Children First since its inception.

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Children’s Rights Lawyer / Veteran Child Welfare Worker Stacie J. Schmerling Named Partner at Talenfeld Law, Nation’s Leading Children’s Rights Law Firm

December 15th, 2014   No Comments   News & Events

STACIEStacie J. Schmerling, a children’s rights lawyer and former veteran child welfare investigator and case worker, has been named partner with Talenfeld Law, Florida’s only law firm dedicated exclusively to protecting abused, disabled and injured kids.

Stacie has worked with preeminent children’s rights lawyer Howard Talenfeld for six years and has been involved in many significant, multimillion dollar cases in the area of civil rights and child welfare.

“Stacie has earned her permanent place as an invaluable member of our team and a staunch partner in our mission to fight for the rights of society’s most vulnerable citizens,” Howard said. “During our time together, we’ve helped deliver life-saving results for children whose abuse and harm have been heart-wrenching and have required the skill of a dedicated and impassioned professional.”

As a partner in Talenfeld Law, Stacie will work to protect the rights of children, the developmentally disabled and others injured in the care of Florida agencies and contracted care providers.

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Preeminent Foster Child Abuse Attorney Named Finalist as Most Effective Lawyer

December 9th, 2014   No Comments   Abuse, Advocacy, Court Cases

Preeminent foster child abuse lawyer and staunch advocate for child welfare reform in the state capital, Howard Talenfeld, was named a finalist as one of this year’s Most Effective Lawyers by the Daily Business Review.

Talenfeld Most Effective Lawyers AwardTalenfeld, who recently opened Talenfeld Law, one of Florida’s first law firms dedicated to protecting injured, abused and neglected statewide and around the country, was recognized for work done as head of the Children’s Rights practice area with his former firm, Colodny Fass Talenfeld Karlinsky Abate & Webb, P.A., along with Babbitt, Johnson, Osborne & Le Clainche, P.A.

Specifically, Talenfeld and the other attorneys were acknowledged for their work on the case of Judith Leekin. While in New York, and later in Florida, the woman assumed numerous identities to adopt mentally disabled children and defraud city welfare officials.

When police raided Leekin’s Port St. Lucie home and found adopted children starved and handcuffed, Leekin’s arrest blew open a tragic breakdown of the New York City foster care system spanning three decades and two states.

Leekin had fraudulently adopted 11 special needs children in Queens, New York, in the 1980s and 1990s, using various aliases. She then collected more than $1.68 million in government subsidies. While she lived in luxury, the children endured continuous torture, abuse, and squalor. Ten survivors were accounted for. An 11th child disappeared while in her care and is presumed dead.

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Florida’s Children First Celebrates Successful Jacksonville Awards

November 9th, 2014   No Comments   Advocacy

Florida foster child attorneys and advocates for at-risk children in Jacksonville and throughout North Florida this month celebrated Jacksonville’s finest children’s advocates and outstanding youth advocates at the Jacksonville Child Advocacy Awards & Reception. The event was held on November 6.

The event supported Florida’s Children First, Inc. (FCF), the leading state-wide advocacy organization for children in the child welfare system. FCF does amazing work statewide and when advocates learn about FCF’s accomplishments, they often become part of making a substantial, positive change for Florida’s foster kids. View the event photo gallery.

The Jacksonville Host Committee included Co-Chairs John “Jake” Schickel and Connie Byrd, and Joe Camerlengo, Rebekah Gleason Hope, Wayne Hogan, Jay Howell, Richard C. Komando, Eric Leach, Sarah Markman, Bruce Maxwell, Jodi Seitlin, Seth Shapiro, Charlene Shirk, Dr. Mary Soha, Dr. Michael Solloway, Valerie Stanley, Howard Talenfeld, Justin Taylor and Jesse Wilson.

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