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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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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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Foster Child Injured, Killed by Foster Parents Highlights Outdated Laws

November 7th, 2014   No Comments   Abuse, Advocacy, Court Cases

In a case of egregious physical abuse of an injured foster child, a girl taken from her parents and handed to foster parents, who then fatally injured her, represents a horror story for any family facing outdated and dangerous laws. This case was in Texas, but it could have been anywhere. Alex Hill was 2 years old when she was taken from her birth parents for their marijuana use while the child slept in her bed. Her foster mother, whose husband had a long rap sheet for a variety of crimes, including drug use, recently was sentenced to life in prison for murder.

“By all accounts, towheaded Alexandria ‘Alex’ Hill, was a healthy and happy toddler, living with healexhillr parents,” wrote the Houston Press. “But [once she was removed from her home], Alex’s parents began to notice red flags about the conditions in the first home during visitations with their daughter…Alex had noticeable bruises, and the couple also found mold & mildew in the little girl’s bag.”

The case exemplifies not only how outdated drug laws that some states still have on the books and put foster children in jeopardy of physical abuse and wrongful death. But more importantly, as in Florida, the relationship between the state and its contracted community-based care providers raised ample questions.

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Broward Residents: Our Kids Need You to Vote YES Nov. 4 for the Children’s Services Council

October 24th, 2014   No Comments   Advocacy

Talenfeld of CSC


On November 4, Broward voters will have a chance to cast a vote that can change the lives of kids countywide. The vote is whether to reauthorize the Children’s Services Council. This vote is required by law to ensure electoral oversight on how taxpayers’ dollars are used and to justify themselves to voters.

From early childhood education and truancy prevention programs, to tutoring and independent living, the Children’s Services Council delivers outreach that dramatically improve the lives of kids countywide.

Vote YES to reauthorize the Children’s Services Council. It’s a vote for Broward’s kids – and Broward’s future.


Florida Department of Children & Families ‘Safety Plan’ Provides No Safety for Mohney Kids

In a case of child abuse and family violence so horrific that child welfare advocates and wrongful death attorneys have said obvious “red flags” should have been apparent to all, domestic violence attorneys and child protection counselors are left to wonder whether the Florida Department of Children & Families’ creation of a “Safety Plan” for the Mohney family was a fool’s errand.

Father David Mohney was reportedly “controlling and jealous.” Wife and mother Cynthia Mohney “stumbling drunk” and abusive of their three children, according to news reports and official DCF documents. The children were left in fear of their mother.

It was their father they should have feared.

This month, David Mohney shot his three children, killing two – ages 14 and 11 – and leaving a 9-year-old in a medically induced coma. Mohney also shot himself. Yet this latest case of horrific and lethal child abuse should have been no surprise to anyone.

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Analysis: Undercount of Child Deaths Leave More Kids At-Risk for Harm

Can how a child dies under the care or watch of the Florida Department of Children and Families help determine whether the death stemmed from physical abuse, neglect, wrongful death or other harm? Apparently, opinions are mixed – especially during election season.

To Florida Gov. Rick Scott, the number of deaths of children who were under the care of the DCF statewide are open to question.

More directly, “…except for abiding by a new state law that required DCF to create a website listing all child fatalities, Florida has continued to undercount the number of children it fails,” the Miami Herald wrote in an investigation of deaths of children under the DCF.

Come have called undercount “cooked.” Most just want a fair accounting in order to help future children.

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Florida’s Children First to Host Annual Palm Beach Fundraiser and Awards Oct. 29 Honoring Child Advocates of the Year

October 17th, 2014   No Comments   Advocacy, News & Events

Florida’s Children First (FCF) will recognize Palm Beach County individuals for their tireless efforts to advocate for the state’s most vulnerable citizens at its annual Palm Beach Reception on Oct. 29 at the National Croquet Center Point Club in West Palm Beach. FCF is a statewide, nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting foster children and other at-risk youth. The event begins at 5:30 p.m.

Dozens of Palm Beach County’s prominent business and community leaders, as well as people concerned about the future of Florida’s children, especially abused, abandoned and neglected children and youth, will be in attendance.

This year, the Honorable Ronald V. Alvarez, recently retired Juvenile Court Judge for the 15th Judicial Circuit and his wife Mrs. Elaine Webb Alvarez will be honored as Child Advocates of the year. Judge Alvarez has long championed the children that come before him in both delinquency and dependency. He also served on virtually every committee to improve the justice and services provided for children.  As an example, he was a member of Unmet Legal Needs of Children Committee, the recommendations of which have finally led to increasing the access of certain categories of foster children to their own lawyers (FCF’s Counsel for Kids Bill).

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For Florida Foster Kids, Lawyers Can ‘Change the Outcome’

October 17th, 2014   No Comments   Advocacy

Ninety seconds – to change the lives of the 300,000 kids who enter the foster care system nationwide each year. That’s all we ask you to spend – 90 seconds – to watch this video about the important difference lawyers can make in the lives of foster kids nationwide. Produced by the American Bar Association’s Children’s Rights Litigation Committee, this could be the most important video you’ll watch today. You could Change The Outcome.


Noted Children’s Advocate Attorney Howard Talenfeld Starts New Firm Representing At-Risk, Foster Kids

Howard Talenfeld, one of the nation’s preeminent children’s rights attorneys, has launched Talenfeld Law. The law firm will be the first in Florida to focus exclusively on protecting the rights of physically and sexually abused, medically fragile, foster and other at-risk children.

Talenfeld 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.

“This practice will provide a loud and clear voice for children who cannot speak or themselves in the state and federal courts and state capitals – Florida’s most vulnerable abused, medically fragile and developmentally disabled children,” said Talenfeld, who will be joined at the firm by children’s rights attorneys Stacie J. Schmerling, Rayni A. Rabinovitz, and Nicole R. Coniglio. “The time is right to leave Colodny, Fass, Talenfeld, Karlinsky ,Abate, & Webb, P.A. after 34 years as the firm became a nationally renown insurance regulatory, litigation and lobbying powerhouse with plans to expand.”

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Children’s Deaths Live On As Political Talking Points In Governor Campaign

October 15th, 2014   No Comments   Abuse, Advocacy, Commentary

Any child advocate, guardian ad litem or attorney who protects foster children and at-risk kids physically or sexually abused, harmed or otherwise a target of personal injury know discussions of their care and protection are delicate matters. So it is frustrating to those same advocates, guardians and attorneys to see candidates in the Florida governor’s race discussing the fate of at-risk kids in the highly charged and politicized campaign for the state’s highest office.

The Associated Press reported this week that Republican Florida Gov. Rick Scott has been telling the state’s voters that children neglected or abused in Florida are more safe with him as governor than when Charlie Crist was in Tallahassee.

While the two sides disagree about the statistics, and media reports are questioning the figures, one point remains: kids are not fodder for candidates for public office.

To be sure, children die, even those under the watch of or known to be at possible harm by the Florida Department of Children and Families. The Miami Herald investigative series, Innocents Lost, revealed some 477 kids known by Florida DCF have died over the past several years.

That they die is bad enough. That they’ve become fodder for the campaign trail is disheartening and disturbing.

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Man Charged with Abuse Approved as Foster Parent by Florida Department of Children and Families

Florida’s foster child advocates and attorneys who represent foster children who have suffered personal injury, physical abuse and sex abuse, and wrongful death are left wondering again how a man known by the Florida Department of Children and Families who was granted a foster parent license ended up being charged with killing a child in his care.

In a twist on news reports of children dying while under the watch of DCF, newspaper reports this week claim that DCF and its private contractors may have failed to completely review the background of Michael Beer before granting him a foster care license. The Port St. Lucie, Florida, foster parent was charged this week with beating to death Trysten Adams, a 2-year-old foster boy in Beer’s care.

Twenty years ago, Beers failed to help another 2-year-old who had been severely abused, according to news reports. The Miami Herald  reports that Florida DCF approved Beers’ foster care license in 2013, even though it knew of the episode.

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