What is FCA?

Child Advocacy Blog


Archive for the ‘Court Cases’ Category

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.


Florida’s Child Advocates Laud Judge’s Ruling on Medical Costs for At-Risk Kids

January 2nd, 2015   No Comments   Advocacy, Commentary, Court Cases

In an important win for Florida’s most vulnerable children – and the doctors and advocates who serve them, a U.S. federal judge this week ruled that the state’s healthcare system for those children violates various federal laws. The move follows a decade-long battle by pediatricians who care for those kids, but have done so at fees sufficient to ensure adequate care.

In his ruling, US Circuit Judge Adalberto Jordan pediatricians and various specialists were subject to a Medicaid budget set by the state at an artificially low level. As a result, many of those doctors elected not to participate in the insurance program that serves the needy. Kids were receiving sub-par medical and dental care, or none at all, especially when families were forced to drive long distances to find doctors still participating in the state program.

“This is a great day for the children in this state,” Dr. Louis B. St. Petery, a Tallahassee pediatrician and executive vice president of the Florida Pediatric Society, told the Miami Herald. Dr. Petery helped spearhead the suit.


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.


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.


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.


Even in Death, Disabled Child Serves as Example that Helped Pass Vital Law

Advocates for Florida’s at-risk children are watching closely as a case unfolds regarding the aftermath of the death of Tamiya Audain. The 12-year-old, severely disable child died when the caregiver in whose care she was placed while under the protection of the state neither fed nor appropriately cared for the girl, officials charge. Tamiya died from starvation last year.

Four women have been charged in connection with her death. But to child advocates and whose who support efforts to improve the oversight of children under the care of the Florida Department of Children and Families and other local or state agencies, Tamiya’s death helped get passed critical legislation this year.

In fact, Tamiya became the example used by advocates to get the Florida Legislature to pass a law funding legal counsel for disabled kids.


Miami Herald: Judge Rebukes DCF Over Kids Placement in Home Where Boy Died

When child welfare authorities tried to keep three children in the home their cousin recently had died of apparent abuse, a Miami judge lashed out at administrators. Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Rosa Figarola labeled the Department of Children and Families’ handling of the case “troubling,” and refused DCF’s request Tuesday.

Figarola “instead ordered the children into foster care,” the Miami Herald reported. “The next day, Figarola shot off a blistering email to agency administrators, accusing them of seeking to leave three small chidlren in harm’s way.”

The case stems from the death of 3-year-old Gerardo Perez, who was unresponsive at Homestead Hospital with bruises and bite marks on his body. His teeth were severely rotten teeth. He died on Monday. Child welfare authorities first sought to remove the other children. Then they asked a judge to leave the children, ages 3, 2 and 1, with their father, who pledge to keep the dead boy’s mother and his sister out of the house.

“The handling of this case illustrates that the same systematic failures that have plagued the Department and given rise to the devastation we recently observed are still being executed,” Figarola wrote. Read the entire story here.

Florida Department of Children and Families Sued for Disabled Child’s Death in ‘Warehousing’ Practice

November 15th, 2013   No Comments   Abuse, Court Cases

In a case attorneys for Florida foster children and other medically at-risk youth have watched closely, Florida Department of Children and Families was sued this week when a girl died following a move from her Tampa home to a geriatric facility in Miami Gardens. Though the former practice of “warehousing” medically fragile children has been reduced or resolved, attentive care for medically needy kids remains an issue.

Florida Child Advocate covered the original story and editorials about it back in November 2012. Now, the mother of the teenage girl from Tampa who died being taken from her mother under DCF orders and driven five hours to a Miami Gardens geriatric or senior nursing home has sued DCF and its agencies for the girl’s death. Read the news story here. 


Florida Department of Children and Families, Agencies Sued by Parents of Tortured Port Charlotte Boy

November 3rd, 2013   No Comments   Abuse, Court Cases

In a case of the Florida Department of Children and Families and its community-based care providers not paying heed to warning signs of child abuse and neglect against those in its care, DCF and several agencies are being sued by the adoptive parents whose adopted boy was left in a Port Charlotte home for several months – even after DCF child welfare officials were told his stepmother was torturing him.

The suit charges DCF, Lutheran Services Florida and Charlotte Behavioral Health Care with negligence.

In 2012, the stepmother was sentenced to a prison term of four years for aggravated child abuse, including smearing feces and urine on the boy’s face and sliding peanut butter sandwiches under his door.

The boy was later adopted by his paternal aunt and uncle. Today, he is 13 and lives in Tennessee.

“He told everybody that would listen what was happening to him and nobody believed him and he ended up in the same place night after night after night,” the attorney told the News Press. “This is going to affect him for the rest of the life.”

Palm Beach Post Editorial: Wellington Family’s Horror Latest Reason to Reform System for Paying Victims of Government Negligence

October 30th, 2013   No Comments   Abuse, Court Cases, Damage Claims

In this Palm Beach Post editorial, staff editorial writer Rhoda Swan argues that it’s long-past time that Florida legislators change their stance and process regarding claims bills necessary to pay multi-million dollar damage awards against state agencies like the Florida Department of Children and Families. As advocates have long said, reform the system, and pay the damage awards.

As Swan wrote, “A Wellington family awarded $5 million for the sexual abuse perpetrated on their son by a foster child must get in line with at least 25 other victims of government negligence in Florida.

“The judgment against the Department of Children and Families will become another ‘claims bill,’ which the Legislature must approve before the family is paid. Legislators passed no claims bill last session, because Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, wants to reform the system first.

“…Attorney Howard Talenfeld will lobby legislators to pay [the family]. Sen. Gaetz dislikes the role lobbyists play, but the system is the problem. Legislators should remove the politics by increasing what governments can pay without legislative approval. Delayed reform means delayed justice.”

Read the entire column here.

Will $5 Million Verdict in Foster Child-On-Child Sexual Abuse Case Help Florida DCF, Community-Based Providers Learn Their Lesson?

October 28th, 2013   No Comments   Abuse, Court Cases, Damage Claims

When a six-member jury decided that the sexual assault of one child by a foster child who was known to be a juvenile sex offender by the Florida Department of Children and Families and its community-based care providers could have been avoided and should have consequences, they were reiterating what child advocates have said all along. Their $5 million verdict against Florida DCF only drove home the point even more forcefully.

Was history repeating itself in the Palm Beach County courtroom, where testimony of the sexual abuse and humiliation suffered by the victim brought tears to the plaintiff’s attorney and jurors alike?

DCF and community-based care providers failed to warn the foster family of the 10-year-old foster child’s own history of violent sexual abuse. Then, after the abuse occurred, they tried to deflect blame and say the foster parents should have known. Child advocate attorney Howard Talenfeld was co-counsel on the case. Read the newspaper account here.


Emotional Tale of Child-on-Child Sexual Abuse Blames Florida Department of Children and Families, Community Based Care Provider

October 17th, 2013   No Comments   Abuse, Court Cases, Damage Claims

Attorneys for a man who as a child suffered sexual abuse by a foster child taken into his family home had a Palm Beach County courtroom in tears – and foster child advocates again wondering when the Florida Department of Children and Families and its community-based care providers ever would learn the lessons of the past.

The family was not told by DCF of the sexual abuse the foster child had suffered from less than two years of age – abuse that transformed him into a sexual predator. Instead, he was placed with the family.

As jurors heard of childhood games gone horribly wrong, “… [a]ttorneys representing DCF and Camelot [community care] have countered that the couple knew enough about [the foster child’s] background to understand the potential risk he posed to [their son].”

The foster child was known to be a juvenile sex offender. Shame on DCF for not warning another family of the full and complete history of a foster child.  Several years ago, DCF paid $10 million in damages under very similar circumstances.

When will DCF learn the lessons of the past?