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Archive for July, 2013

Amid Two More Child Deaths, Florida DCF Ponders Working with Sheriffs for Investigations

Foster child attorneys and at-risk youth advocates have watched in horror as the Florida Department of Children and Families – and its community based care providers – have been wracked by at least four children’s deaths in the past few months. All were known by DCF and its partners to be in risky settings of abuse or neglect that had been investigated – and determined to be suitable for the children’s safety.

Add two more to the list. Dakota Stiles, a toddler, drowned in a grime-darkened pool at his family’s filthy home, deemed such by investigators themselves. Cherish Perrywinkle, 8, allegedly was raped and strangled by a registered sex offender befriended by her mother. Read the Miami Herald story here.

Sadly, their deaths – but not the agency’s awareness of their situations – came under the watch of interim DCF secretary, Esther Jacobo. She assumed the post after the resignation of then-Secretary David Wilkins.


Florida Child Abuse Attorney Sounds Alarm for Continued Change at DCF

Howard Talenfeld is a leading advocate for Florida’s foster children and attorney representing those who have been physically abused, sexually abused, harmed or even who died at the hands of family or community based agencies while under the watch of the Florida Department of Children and Families. Most recently, he has sounded the alarm regarding continued abuse of vulnerable kids statewide.

His most recent letters to the editor have run in:

The Miami Herald

The Palm Beach Post

The Tampa Times

The South Florida Sun-Sentinel

The publications are different, but the message told across Florida is the same: The Department of Children and Families must step up its care and protection of children under its watch. Investigators must be licensed and watched. CBC agencies must be held accountable. And DCF must pursue the policy of “transparency, common sense and a sense of urgency” needed to ensure Florida’s kids remain safe.

Calls For Reform Grow Louder: DCF Chief Resignation First Step

The deaths of four children under the watch of the Florida Department of Children and Families – as horrific a market as that is – wasn’t the end of the abuse and death of kids under DCF’s care. Another child, Jayden Villegas, died this Sunday. When will the dying end?

Steps are being made, though not necessarily all were at the hands of DCF itself. First, DCF Chief David Wilkins stepped down from the agency. The Miami Herald excoriated the agency in an editorial this week.

Then, a host of papers carried news of a judge ordering of DCF to transfer child-protective investigations. Markets included papers in Tampa, Tallahassee and elsewhere.

One can only hope this is the start of wholesale, dramatic and substantive change at DCF. The kids’ lives still depend on it – no matter how much “change” administrators will say already has been made.

Children’s Rights Attorneys: U.S. Sues Florida for ADA Violations Over Cutting Care, Habitually Placing Fragile Kids in Adult Nursing Homes

To children’s rights attorneys and lawyers who have fought and sued to protect at-risk and medically needy children’s civil rights and for damage claims, a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Department of Justice against Florida healthcare agencies was welcome news.

In the face of continued spending cuts, questionable practices and corrective measures one children’s rights attorney called “window dressing,” the U.S. Department of Justice this week filed a civil rights lawsuit claiming the state has been violating the 1990 Americans With Disabilities Act.

The suit seeks to halt the state’s practice of “warehousing” disabled minor children in adult nursing homes, sometimes even when parents were willing to provide suitable home-based care, with the assistance of necessary caregivers. Funding for such caregivers was deeply cut in recent years, even as funding for questionable institutional care was increased.


Does DCF Chief Shake-Up Mean Change Is Coming For Florida’s At-Risk Kids?

It’s been a deadly time for children under the watch of the Florida Department of Children and Families and the community-based care or “lead” agencies charged with keeping kids safe. Four children have died from abuse or neglect in the last three months.

In the cases of 5-month-old Bryan Osceola, 2-year-old Ezra Raphael, 4-year-old Antwan Hope, and 1-year-old Fernando Barahona, DCF or its contracted agencies knew about threats to health or safety in the children’s homes. Yet, caseworkers and investigators approved visits or the children’s continued placement in dangerous settings. Some caseworkers falsified reports; some weren’t even certified to work for the agencies. Read Howard Talenfeld’s Letter to the Tampa Bay Times.

Now – finally – there’s hope that things may change. On Thursday, embattled DCF Secretary David Wilkins resigned. He was replaced by interim Secretary Esther Jacobo, who most recently served as DCF regional managing director for Miami-Dade and Monroe counties.


With DCF Chief Out, Advocates Hope for Positive Change From Esther Jacobo

The abrupt resignation of David Wilkins, who as Secretary of the Florida Department of Children and Families was Florida’s top child welfare and social services administrator, leaves advocates for the state’s foster and at-risk children hoping better times are coming.

He left amid “an escalating scandal over the recent deaths of four small children who had a history of involvement with child-abuse investigators,” the Miami Herald wrote.

Wilkins left to “pursue opportunities in the private sector.” In his place, DCF named as interim secretary Esther Jacobo. She was the top Miami administrator and a veteran of the work of former DCF secretaries Bob Butterworth and George Sheldon.

Advocates hope Ms. Jacobo will be able to lead the agency as her former bosses once did – with the transparency, common sense and sense of urgency – and which was sorely lacking under Mr. Wilkins.

As Another Child is Injured, Department of Children and Families Scrutiny Intensifies

The Florida Department of Children and Families finds itself under increasing scrutiny as yet another child suffers serious abuse and apparent personal injury while under its watch. Child advocates and attorneys fear for the child’s future – and that of others like him.

The Sunshine State News Service asked in an article whether a Florida DCF transformation of its old system “cut too many corners”  It’s a valid and timely question.

The child most recently injured was first admitted to the hospital with a broken leg his mother claimed resulted from a fall. Workers tasked with overseeing children did not act to investigate the claims. A later cracked rib went uninvestigated. The child was nearly killed in the third incident that severed his liver.

At least one judge has had enough.


South Florida Child Abuse Attorney: Rise in Children Removed From Homes Leaves Advocates Puzzled

July 8th, 2013   No Comments   Advocacy, Commentary

Across Broward County, child advocates and children’s rights attorneys are puzzled by the growing number of children who are being removed from their homes over concerns of physical abuse and sexual abuse. Those who know the situation realize the matter likely extends beyond Fort Lauderdale to Miami and West Palm Beach.

To some advocates and attorneys who represent foster children and other at-risk kids in personal injury and damages cases, the numbers are disturbing.

“When they take a child from a family they are harmed. It’s traumatic,” Howard Talenfeld, president of advocacy group Florida’s Children First, told the Sun-Sentinel. “There are lots of things we hope they are doing before they take the children away.”


Credentials, Transparency Lacking With Florida Department of Children and Families Investigators

The deaths of several children under the watch of the Florida Department of Children and Families have raised serious issues regarding the credentials – or lack thereof – of DCF investigators.

In one case, the Miami Herald reports that “The Miami child abuse investigator who resigned under pressure last May after an infant she declared ‘safe’ was later baked to death in a sweltering car had been working for two years without required certification — a violation of state law.”

In an editorial entitled, “DCF, Heal Thyself,” the Miami Herald wrote, “Something is horribly wrong with the Florida Department of Children & Families’ investigative process. Four children have died in the past six weeks alone. Their troubled parents all were known to DCF. But all four tots died while in the custody of supposed caretakers.

“In each instance, DCF had the chance to remove the child from potential danger. Instead, the agency’s overarching priority of keeping families together (too often without adequate resources or supervision) is putting kids in harm’s way….DCF Secretary David Wilkins acknowledges that mistakes were made in some of those cases. But where’s the urgency to stop returning children to abusive households? Why does this keep happening? The problems lie within DCF itself. Its investigator training lacks accountability, the quality of investigators’ work and their judgment-making ability remains hampered by Mr. Wilkins’ top-down rigidity…”

Things must change – or the pattern of children’s deaths will not.

Florida Child Advocate Attorney: Commission Needed to Review Child’s Death

July 1st, 2013   No Comments   Advocacy, Commentary

Watch Florida child advocate and Florida’s Children First founder Howard Talenfeld discuss one in the recent spate of deaths of children under the watch of investigators from the Florida Department of Children and Families. He calls for an “outside commission, not an inside commission” to review at least one of the deaths – in hopes of stopping even more.