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Archive for September, 2014

Mark Your Calendar: Jacksonville Child Advocacy Awards & Reception on Nov. 6

September 24th, 2014   No Comments   Advocacy

Florida’s child advocates and children’s rights attorneys, Mark Your Calendar: Join Jacksonville’s finest children’s advocates and outstanding youth advocates at the Jacksonville Child Advocacy Awards & Reception.

The event will be held on Thursday, November 6, 2014, from 5:30 – 7:30 pm at the The Haskell Building (111 Riverside Avenue, Jacksonville, 34236). Attire is business casual. Refreshments will be served. Entry is $100.

RSVP Today.

Florida’s Children First, Inc. (FCF) is 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.


When is a Florida Foster Child Not a Foster Child? When Disabled and Needing Care

When is a disabled foster child not really a foster child? Apparently, Florida’s disabled foster “children” aged 18 to 22 are not foster kids in the eyes of the state Agency for Persons with Disabilities, whose officials believe the Department of Children and Families or Medicaid are responsible for paying for the extended care of disabled individuals in foster care between ages 18 and 22.

For advocates and attorneys who champion and represent foster kids who face potential abuse, personal injury and other harm, this is another issue of key importance, especially for those whose daily life is a caregiver’s struggle.

It was a situation the Florida Legislature thought it had resolved in 2013, when it passed a law ensuring disable foster persons were allowed to stay in state care until they reached age 22. The new law lacked one key element: Direction as to which agency would pay for the care.

In an effort to provide guidance, Sen. Nancy Detert (R-Venice) is pushing for a solution. She has discussed the issue with children’s advocates and service providers. It’s a critically important issue for Florida’s disabled foster persons.


DCF Alerted Two Weeks Before Fatal Bell Murder Suicide

Child advocates and children’s rights attorneys who protect at-risk kids and families from personal injury, wrongful death and physical and sexual abuse learned through the media the horrors that went on in the home of Don Spirit in Bell, Florida. Apparently the Spirit family and the Florida Department of Children and Families were familiar with one another, too.

Child welfare investigators had visited the family’s home in North Florida just outside Gainesville earlier this month, according to news reports. What DCF personnel found was a continuation of the life Mr. Spirit, his daughter, Sarah, and her six children had lived for years.

The grandfather, who had served jail time and had been reported for physical abuse, was there with Sarah, who also served time for various criminal offenses, including drug use. They suffered extreme poverty with little hope.

Then, last week, Mr. Spirit erupted in a violent outburst, killing Ms. Spirit, all her children, and then himself in a horrific episode that has child advocates and children’s rights attorneys puzzled as to what went wrong.


Cycle of Addiction, Abuse, Death: Mother, Children Murders and Grandfather’s Abuse and Suicide

As Florida child advocates and children’s rights attorneys grapple with the wrongful death, personal injury, and physical and sexual abuse suffered by the state’s at-risk and foster children, news from North Florida point to the cycle of mistreatment and abuse families suffer. The murder / suicide of a mother and her six children at the hands of her abusive father point to the horrors of the cycles of poverty, drug addiction and physical abuse.

Don Spirit apparently killed his daughter, Sarah, 28, and her six young children, before killing himself last week in the small North Florida town of Bell. Ms. Spirit’s fears were not unknown to local authorities. Several times she had reached out to police and agencies, even incurring threats of harm from her father for doing so.

Their lives spent together in what the New York Times called “a cycle of extreme poverty, drug addiction and domestic violence” came to an end this month. In death, they were released from the grips of repeated arrests for drugs and violence, the yoke of debt and drug addiction.

But the cycle lives on for countless other families caught in the same maelstrom.


Death of Autistic Girls at Residential Facility has Child Advocate Attorneys Hoping Lessons Will be Learned

September 20th, 2014   No Comments   Uncategorized

For any child advocate or attorney who represents at-risk children facing wrongful death, neglect, physical or sexual abuse or other personal injury, the complaints surrounding Carlton Palms Educational Center in Lake County seemingly are continued cause for alarm.

The July 2013 death of Paige Elizabeth Lunsford, a 14-year-old autistic girl, have state officials looking into Carlton Palms, a residential center for severely disabled children and adults. Officials with the Agency for Persons with Disabilities are calling for the center to stop accepting new patients. APD officials also are calling for the firing of Carlton Palms’ medical director.

The most recent calls stem from the death of Miss Lunsford, who came to the center from South Florida child. Her disability rendered her unable to speak. Soon after her arrival, she began vomiting, which lasted for several days. Her illness was made worse by medical neglect and inadequate supervision, noted the Florida Department of Children and Families.


New Report Shows Counties Suffer in Caring for At-Risk Children

September 16th, 2014   No Comments   Uncategorized

A recent report issued by child-welfare professionals has found Miami-Dade and Monroe counties’ efforts and systems to protect vulnerable and at-risk children suffers “major problems.” The news comes on the heels of a recent investigative report that found that almost 500 kids statewide had died or suffered wrongful death while under the watch of the Florida Department of Children and Families. Every day, kids under state watch or in the care of its community based care providers suffer physical, emotional or sexual abuse. For all the money spent on child welfare services in Florida, these truths are stark and saddening.

The most recent report was issued by experts enlisted earlier this year by the Department of Children and Families and its Interim Secretary Mike Carroll. The system is strained by a rise in kids in state care, and the DCF and its network of service providers are struggling to handle the burden.

Miami-Dade and Monroe counties outpace the state in the children receiving in-home services, the report noted. In those two counties alone, numbers rose more than 63 percent; statewide, the figure was 1% between May 2013 and July 2014. Read a news article on the report here.

Meanwhile, names like Nubia Barahona, Rilya Wilson and others are seared into our collective memories as children who suffered and died after finding their way through the state child welfare system.


Florida Department of Children and Families Sued for Adopted Child’s Life of Abuse

September 16th, 2014   No Comments   Abuse, Court Cases, Damage Claims

The warning signs of child abuse, neglect and eventually possible wrongful death were etched across little J.B.’s reportedly horrible life as a child adopted by Carmen and Jorge Barahona. J.B. always was close at hand as Nubia Barahona, 10, and her twin brother, Victor, were allegedly physically abused, starved and mistreated. Teachers said Nubia Barahona would arrive at school unkempt and withdrawn and she would hoard or steal food. Eventually, Nubia was found dead in Jorge Barahona’s truck, while Victor suffered serious injury. Jorge Barahona is facing trial for trying to kill Victor; Carmen stands trial for the first degree murder of Nubia.

Now, it’s J.B.’s turn. The Miami-Dade County child who suffered years of abuse by her adoptive parents filed a lawsuit this week against the Florida Department of Children and Families and three of its employees.

According to the complaint, “J.B” was physically, sexually and emotionally abused by the Barahonas starting in 1999, when she was placed in their care by the Florida Department of Children and Families. The abuse lasted until she finally was removed in 2011 upon Nubia Barahona’s death.


Broward Businesses and Children’s Rights Advocates Push Re-Authorization

The work of the Children’s Services Council of Broward County cannot be overstated. The organization oversees spending of some $60 million annually into county-wide programs that help children in need. Efforts include everything from after-school programs and family counseling to swimming lessons and other important services. According to a Sun-Sentinel article, such programs “help parents work easier, youth become productive and the business climate stronger.” In all about one in four Broward kids benefit.

It’s a role not lost on businesses throughout Broward County. The business community is gathering forces to ensure funding continues. Their efforts will come to a head on Nov. 4, when county voters will decide whether to re-authorize a property tax that funds the council.

Those who back the group are household names. JM Family Enterprises and Castle Group property management support a Yes vote, as does the Broward Workshop of county CEOs.

Such “front-end” services can help avoid foster care and juvenile detention for the county’s most vulnerable youth, said Howard Talenfeld, a leading children’s rights attorney and founding president of Florida’s Children First. The organization is the state’s premier children’s advocacy group. The result: families remain unified, kids stay in school, summer jobs are more common, and Broward’s children get the counseling they need, he said.

Vote Yes for re-authorization of the Children’s Services Council on Nov. 4. Success will prove beneficial to more than just the county’s businesses. Citizens throughout Broward will realize the positive results.

Article: Probes Into Alleged Abuse, Neglect at Florida Disabled Home Highlight Concerns

As guardians, advocates and attorneys for Florida’s most vulnerable children fight to prevent wrongful death and personal injury among at-risk children, we continue to learn of instances statewide where some levels of institutional care leave advocates wanting greater oversight. The Florida Department of Children and Families and regulatory officials have investigated claims of abuse and neglect at facilities statewide. One such facility is the Carlton Palms Educational Center in Central Florida, which has been the subject of such inquiry at least 140 times. The facility, which serves children and residents with severe disabilities, never has been disciplined, according to a recent news article.

No disciplined even followed the death last year of Paige Elizabeth Lunsford, a severely autistic and non-communicative 14-year-old child who almost immediately after admission to the facility in 2013. Soon after her arrival, she began retching, throwing up, was unable to eat and thrashed and flailed uncontrollably, according to those reports.

Soon, caregivers at the facility put the girl in restraints. But they never sought care beyond the teachers, nurses or doctor on staff. They never took her to an area hospital. As she lay with her wrists, ankles, biceps and waist bound, Paige grew increasingly ill.

The child from Margate, Florida, eventually died.


Hard Work Pays for Premier Florida Foster Child Advocacy Group

From Tallahassee to Main Street, Florida’s Children First enjoyed remarkable success over the past year in its mission to help the state’s vulnerable, abused and at-risk children. The organization and its supporters helped usher in several new laws and public interest efforts that together make life safer for Florida’s foster children and others. 

Among the initiatives, two bills the organization and its backers had proposed were made into law. They included the Counsel for Dependent Children with Special Needs (HB 561), which will help ensure legal counsel is provided to special-needs children in the state dependency system. The other was Juvenile Sentencing Reform (HB 7035), in which FCF served as part of a vital coalition of backers who helped advocate for the measure.

FCF also helped to get key language incorporated into important laws that were enacted this session. The language and bills included creation of a Website to Report Child Deaths or Neglect (SB 1666); Child-on-Child Sexual Assault (SB 1666); Services & Provision Tracking (SB 1666); and Accountability on Delivery of Services Through Community Alliance Boards (SB 1666).


Florida Foster Child Attorney, Advocates Agree: ‘Pivotal Time’ Child Welfare

When Florida Department of Children and Families interim Secretary Mike Carroll told foster child attorneys and child abuse advocates this week that he sought to both save children’s lives and also to “protect the light” in children’s eyes, he found no argument among attendees at the annual Child Protection Summit.

The audience of staunch child advocates and attorneys who represent at-risk children also fight for the rights of Florida’s most vulnerable citizens – the young, abandoned, sexually abused and those otherwise in need of guidance and protection in their lives.

The past few years have been both tough and promising. The Florida DCF has been under significant scrutiny, with a spate of deaths of children under its care or knowledge. A recent newspaper investigation revealed almost 500 such kids have died while supposedly under its watch or knowledge.