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Child Advocacy Blog


Peers Mourn Loss of Florida’s Leading Child Advocate, Foster Child Abuse Attorney

February 27th, 2015   No Comments   Adoption, Commentary

gloria_fletcherAs an attorney, Gloria W. Fletcher was the staunchest advocate for her clients. As a champion for the children, she was one of Florida’s great child advocates. Though a formidable, tenacious criminal defense attorney for her clients, including many law enforcement personnel, Gloria arguably had her greatest impact on the lives of children. From the streets of Gainesville, to the federal and state courts of Florida, to the halls of the Florida Legislature and even the governor’s office, she was a force to be reckoned with when arguing on behalf of the state’s neediest children. That was where many knew her best. With her passing this week, that’s where many will miss her most.

Gloria for years served as Vice President and an active board member of Florida’s Children First, a statewide child advocacy organization, where she pressed for foster children to have attorneys. With her relationships in the capital and her unwillingness to take “No” for an answer, she pursued key legislation from sponsors through committees straight to the governor’s desk.

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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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Lauren’s Kids Report: Child Sexual Abuse Costs Florida Billions of Dollars

March 11th, 2015   No Comments   Abuse, Advocacy, News & Events

Florida child sexual abuse attorneys and advocates who work to protect victims of abuse know the costs of such harm go far beyond what’s typically reported. Child sexual abuse is a billion-dollar drain on Florida’s economy. It’s cost is immeasurable to the health, welfare and well-being of Florida’s children who are victims of sexual abuse and physical abuse.

A recent study, from child sexual abuse awareness organization Lauren’s Kids, found that 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 5 boys have experienced or will experience child sexual abuse (CSA). The numbers are far too high, and society must do far more to help lower the numbers – and protect children.

According to the report, “children are most vulnerable to sexual abuse between the ages of 7 and 13, yet most cases of child sexual abuse go unreported.” In Florida alone in 2012, 67,087 cases of child abuse and maltreatment were investigated. It is believed that countless more instances of such abuse were unreported. For the state’s 205,000 third graders alone, for example, upward of 31,000 will become victims.

The figure is astronomical, heartbreaking and economically devastating for victims and their families.

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Florida Child Abuse Attorney: News Stories Reveal Foster Care Privatization Experiment Failing Nationwide

March 7th, 2015   No Comments   Abuse, Advocacy, Court Cases

Among Florida foster child abuse attorneys and child advocates from Miami and Fort Lauderdale to throughout the state, it’s no secret that the Florida Department of Children and Family’s experiment in privatization of child welfare services has been a failure. Hundreds of children, many known to DCF officials to be at risk, have died at the hands of caregivers while agency supervisors or employees stood by. Many others suffered horrible sexual abuse, physical abuse or emotional trauma.

Now, a recent study reveals the failed experiment of privatization of child welfare stretches nationwide.

In its investigative report, Fostering Profits, online news organization BuzzFeed News identified sex abuse and blunders in screening, training, and overseeing foster parents at the nation’s largest for-profit foster care company.

Court documents revealed that abuse at one facility contracted by National Mentor Holdings resulted in “blunders in screening, training, and overseeing its foster parents” were “not limited to a few tragic cases but are widespread.”

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In Florida and US, Child Welfare Privatization is a Failed National Experiment

Florida’s child welfare experiment in the privatization of child care and oversight has proven to be a failure. Children suffer sexual abuse, physical harm, and – as a Miami Herald expose revealed – death, even of those children known by the Florida Department of Children and Families to be at risk. As attorneys and lawyers for at-risk children in the child welfare system know, no data supports the cause of privatization. And Florida is not alone.

Talenfeld - Alexendria HillIn a sad tale of child abuse and capital murder similar to some of those we’ve witnessed in Florida, 2-year-old Alexandria Hill of Texas died in 2013 at the hands of a foster parent hired to care for her by a company hired, in turn, by the state to oversee her care. Read her story here.

The story, “The Brief Life and Private Death of Alexandria Hill,” reports that Alex was removed from her parents, in part, because the father admitted to smoking marijuana after he put her to bed in the evening. She was placed with a former crack addict and an out-of-work bus driver, the article claims, paid by a billion-dollar contractor just over $44 a day to be “mentors” to two foster children.

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Child Advocacy Group Florida’s Children First to Host Broward Fundraiser, Advocate Awards

Florida’s Children First, the state’s premier advocacy organization for at-risk children, will host the Florida’s Children First 2015 Broward Reception tonight - Thursday, February 26 – from 5:30-7:30PM at the Riverside Hotel (620 East Las Olas Boulevard, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301). The organization will honor child advocates in Broward at its annual fundraising and awards event. Community and business leaders, and all other persons concerned about the future of Florida’s children, especially abused, abandoned and neglected children and youth, will be in attendance.

Among those being honored this year are Child Advocate of the Year Senator Eleanor Sobel; Corporate Partner of the Year G4S; and Tracey McPharlin Pro Bono Counsel of the Year Stacie Schmerling. The Youth Advocate of the Year is Lamont Dennis.

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Domestic Violence Must Join Child Abuse, Sexual Abuse as Red Flags in DCF Cases

Any child advocate or child abuse attorney who fights to protect children from child abuse or other harm knows the confluence of domestic violence, substance abuse and mental illness create a toxic cocktail that can place children in harm’s way. Little Phoebe Jonchuck, 5, reportedly was surrounded by all three. She no doubt knew the horrors. Problem is, those who are paid to protect children like Phoebe missed the signs.

Word that John Jonchuck, the father who allegedly threw his daughter off a bridge into Tampa Bay in January, reportedly had been cited for alleged domestic violence, battery and stalking raises yet another red flag in the case of Phoebe.

Sadly, though his history was known, it didn’t sound alarms among officials at the Florida Department of Children and Families or those who granted Jonchuck custody of his daughter. One child advocate called hers “a preventable death.”

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Department of Children Rapid Response Team Report Cites Faults in Jonchuck Case

After reading news accounts of the report issued this week by the Department of Children and Families in the case of Phoebe Jonchuck, the 5-year-old girl killed when her father allegedly tossed her into Tampa Bay, Florida child abuse attorneys and lawyers who represent at-risk children believe ample blame and areas of improvement exist as lessons from this episode. From operators at the Florida Child Abuse Hotline (1-800-962-2873) to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Department to DCF itself, the report highlights what went wrong – and where areas of improvement exist – so future cases like Phoebe’s don’t happen again.

Among the most important points, at least two calls to the state’s abuse hotline were not escalated for intervention. One came in December, the other on January 7, one day before Phoebe drowned in Tampa Bay.

The family was not recommended to receive intervention by family service advocates following a call in 2013 warning about abuse to Phoebe. When the Sheriff’s Office did intervene following a call, they reportedly failed to refer the family for intervention as well.

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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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