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Archive for September, 2009

Florida Advocates’ Concern: Providing Lawyers to Children in Dependency Court

The Florida Bar’s Legal Needs of Children Committee searches for common ground on how best to provide lawyers for children in dependency court — while not harming the statewide Guardian ad Litem Program.

This article Jan Pudlow, senior editor with the Florida Bar News, reveals how the committee members, including leadership at the Department of Children and Families, the head of the GAL Program, judges, legal aid representatives, and private attorneys, unanimously passed a resolution of agreed-upon concepts to guide the way toward crafting proposed legislation they hope will become a Florida Bar lobbying position in the 2010 Florida Legislature.

“For it not to come together would be a shame,” Bar President Jesse Diner urged the committee at the Bar’s General Meeting in Tampa September 10. “If we all care about doing the right thing, then we can find a way to come together and make this work.”

Added Committee Chair and foster care and child welfare attorney Howard Talenfeld, “If we can achieve real consensus with the Family Law Section, then we have a real shot at getting the funding necessary to advance the issue of representation of children in the state of Florida.” Read entire article here…


Jesse Diner: ‘Seven Years & Counting’ for Foster Children & Attorney Representation

Florida is one of ten states that do not provide attorneys to children in foster care and the dependency system. They are the only party  in a dependency case who are not represented and thousands do not have Guardians ad Litem.

jesse-diner

Florida Bar Pres. Jesse Diner

This year, Florida Bar President Jesse Diner is making the passage of legislation that would provide attorneys for foster children one of his top priorities. The commentary below appeared in The Florida Bar Journal…

Children are entitled to the same zealous advocacy adult clients expect of their lawyers. Yet, too often, children come to court powerless, with no one representing them at all. . . .

“If children are lucky enough to have lawyers, too often those lawyers are underpaid, inexperienced, and overwhelmed by huge caseloads. Judges are left to make life-altering decisions about a child without sufficient information to back up sound decisions.”

Those excerpts are plucked from the 2002 final report of The Florida Bar Commission on the Legal Needs of Children, a hardworking group of Florida judges and lawyers and experts on children’s issues chaired by 11th Circuit Judge Sandy Karlan. (more…)

Florida’s Adoption Program Earns National Respect, Awarded $10 Million

September 18th, 2009   No Comments   Funding, Psychotropic

We at Florida Child Advocate.com congratulate Florida Department of Children and Families Secretary George Sheldon and former Secretary Robert Butterworth for initiating an effort that recognizes that every child, regardless of age or disability, is adoptable. This is a great start, but we have a long way to go.

We’re not alone in recognizing this effort. The Miami Herald reports that Florida leads the nation in finding permanent homes for abused and neglected children.

Washington has recognized the work of what has become a model program, too. Reporter Carol Marbin Miller writes that Florida child-welfare administrators have received nearly $10 million in federal aid for Florida’s adoption program.

“For the second year in a row, the Department of Children & Families has led the nation — by a wide margin — in the number of children successfully adopted from foster care,” Miller writes. “For their efforts, DCF will receive a hefty bonus that can be used to boost next year’s adoption program.” Read More…


Looking For a Few Good Lawyers: Judge, Attorney Spearhead Search for Pro Bono Lawyers

Pro Bono Lawyers, Advocates Sought to Help Southwest Florida Foster Children

In Florida courts for abused and neglected children, attorneys represent the Department of Children and Families, the Guardian ad Litem, and parents, but rarely is one there just for the child. Some have proposed changes to the system.

Howard Talenfeld, president of Florida’s Children First, a statewide advocacy organization, chairs the Florida Bar’s Legal Needs of Children group that is proposing the changes. “There are so many amazingly qualified guardians, but it’s time to recognize that the system is so splintered, so broken that these kids need more.”

Judge James Seals, who presides over Lee County’s dependency court, and Alicia Guerra, supervising attorney for the local guardian program, which provides court advocates for children, are trying to recruit pro-bono lawyers for children with complex legal issues and teenagers aging out of foster care.  Read the entire article here…

Care Providers Can Reduce Liability and Lawsuit Risk When Helping Florida Foster Children

September 4th, 2009   No Comments   Damage Claims

Child Advocate Lawyer to DCF Dependency Summit: Reduce Risks & Damage Awards in the Child Welfare System

Attorney Howard Talenfeld, who focuses his practice on protecting the rights of vulnerable individuals in civil rights cases, personal injury cases and systemic reform litigation, presented at the Florida Department of Children & Families Dependency Summit on August 27 to DCF employee’s, lead agencies and other providers on Preventative Law and Early Risk Assessment.

Presenting with Talenfeld were DCF’s John Copelan, Esq., Karen Nissen of Vernis & Bowling of Palm Beach, and Derrick Roberts of ChildNet.

As an attorney and child advocate, Talenfeld has been involved in many of the significant and innovative child advocacy claims handled throughout Florida and the country. Talenfeld is perhaps best known in the child advocacy legal arena for his work as one of first attorneys nationally to utilize a federal civil rights damage statute to recover damages for injured foster children. In its 2001 case Roe v. Florida Department of Children & Family Services, the firm recovered a $5 million damage award – an amount in excess of Florida’s sovereign immunity limit of $100,000 – on behalf of six foster children.

To protect the developmentally disabled and the mentally retarded, the firm in Baumstein v. Sunrise Communities successfully argued in the Third District Court of Appeal to establish a private cause of action for damages based upon the violation of Florida’s Bill of Rights for the developmentally disabled. This decision was the first to recognize this approach which led to a significant settlement of this wrongful death damages claim.

Talenfeld represents children injured while in state care because he knows that after children in DCF custody turn 19, no one to help them get the care, treatment and support they need to face the future.

His role on this panel, though, blended both his litigation successes as well as his specialized knowledge of how to protect the rights of foster care and other children in the state’s care. (more…)

Florida DCF Secretary Sheldon Says Agency Changing Culture

September 3rd, 2009   1 Comment   Rights of Foster Children

This article from the News Service of Florida reveals Florida Department of Children & Families Secretary George Sheldon’s belief that the agency at the center of state foster care issues is changing its culture.

“Gov. Crist made it very clear that if you make a mistake, admit it and try to fix it,’’ Sheldon said.

“Despite recent critical reports, Department of Children and Families Secretary George Sheldon said this week that he is convinced the beleaguered agency is beginning to change a long-engrained culture,” the article began. “A recently-completed internal report raises questions as to whether the agency has the right kind of employees who are willing to use common sense to avoid ongoing mistakes, such as one that came to light with the suicide of a 7-year-old child in South Florida.

“These mistakes wind up costing taxpayers millions of dollars because the state ends up settling lawsuits that accuse the agency of negligence.”

See the entire article here…