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When a Florida Foster Child Makes a Call for Help Does Anyone Listen?

December 1st, 2009   No Comments   Abuse, News & Events

If a Florida foster child, vulnerable person or concerned citizen makes a call to a state-sponsored abuse hotline, can he or she be assured help will come?

That’s the question citizens, child advocate attorneys and others are asking as revelations of the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) Abuse Report Hotline are going public.

At issue: The state’s admitted “screening” process that takes some calls seriously, while ignoring others.

“Hot-line calls are cries for help on behalf of a child,” said Howard Talenfeld, the Fort Lauderdale-based chairman of Florida’s Children First, an advocacy group. “Any call that is screened out is a cry that falls on deaf ears.”

Click here to read the Miami Herald article.

Florida’s Children First Honors Foster Care Advocates & Graduate

November 19th, 2009   No Comments   Foster Care, Fundraising & Support

More than 100 child advocates, lawyers, judges and politicians gathered at the Gunster Yoakley law firm offices in West Palm Beach recently to honor those in Palm Beach County who are making a difference in the lives of foster children.

“These individuals have proven that you can help change outcomes for foster children by simply getting involved in a foster child’s life,” said Howard Talenfeld, President of Florida’s Children First, and a partner with Colodny, Fass, Talenfeld, Karlinsky & Abate PA.

The event raised more than $20,000 and honored local foster care advocates and Obadiah Payton, a  young adult who successfully made it through the system. Read the Sun-Sentinel On The Scene coverage here…

Foster Advocacy Group Florida’s Children First to Host Miami-Dade Fundraiser

Florida’s Children First will hold its Miami-Dade Child Advocate Awards and Reception  on December 3, 2009 from 5:30 PM to 7:30 PM.

Child advocates, community and business leaders, and all other persons concerned about the future of Florida’s children, especially abused, abandoned and neglected children and youth are welcome. A $100 contribution is suggested; all proceeds will benefit Florida’s Children First, the leading child advocacy organization in Florida.

The event will honor three children’s advocates, including the Honorable Carlos Martinez, Andi Steinaker, and foster care “graduate” Julia Villamizar. (more…)

Florida Attorney: State Making Progress, But Reports Say Still Much To Do on Child Abuse & Representation

Two national reports failed the state of Florida with regard to preventing child abuse in the child welfare system, and they highlight the need for representation of children in the system.

Although Florida is making process in its child welfare system, the two reports still point out we have a long way to go.

“… the issue of providing more attorneys for children is being discussed statewide,” writes the Daytona Beach News-Journal. “The Florida Bar has a committee working on legislation for the upcoming session seeking more attorneys for foster children with special needs, such as the disabled, older teens and children being prescribed psychotropic drugs.”

“It only makes sense that Florida join the other 40 states that give these kids their own lawyer, ” Howard Talenfeld, chair of The Florida Bar committee, told the News-Journal.

Click on the following links to read Howard Talenfeld’s letters on the issue in the Miami Herald and South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

Florida’s Children First Palm Beach Fundraiser and Awards Reception Honors Foster Care Advocates and “Graduates”

Event Raises More Than $20,000 to Help Foster Children

Michael Carris, Howard Talenfeld, and the Hon. Mark Pafford

Michael Carris, Howard Talenfeld, and the Hon. Mark Pafford

More than 100 Florida child advocates, lawyers, judges and politicians gathered at the Gunster Yoakley law firm offices in West Palm Beach recently to honor those in Palm Beach County who are making a difference in the lives of foster children.

FCF Board of Directors: Richard Filson, Denise Manning, Julie Talenfeld, Howard Talenfeld, FCF President and Alan Mishael.

FCF Board of Directors: Richard Filson, Denise Manning, Julie Talenfeld, Howard Talenfeld, FCF President and Alan Mishael.

Florida’s Children First (FCF) Executive Director Christina Spudeas and President Howard Talenfeld, a staunch child advocate and partner with Colodny Fass Talenfeld Karlinsky & Abate, led the event, which raised more than $20,000 and honored local foster care advocates and one young adult who successfully made it through the system.

“Even in a down economy FCF is fortunate to be supported by individuals who open up their hearts and their purse strings to support programs for our state’s foster children,” said Spudeas.

This year’s honorees included Nora Collins-Mandeville, Mari Frankel, and Rita and Les Gorenflo for their foster child advocacy work. Foster care “graduate” Obadiah Payton was also recognized for his successful transition into independent living.

Christina Spudeas and 2009 honoree Nora Collins-Mandeville.

Christina Spudeas and 2009 honoree Nora Collins-Mandeville.

“These individuals have that you can help change outcomes for foster children by simply by getting involved in a foster child’s life,” said Talenfeld.

Nora Collins-Mandeville was honored for her passion for children who have aged out of foster care, her natural ability to connect with young people and her search to find a better way for Florida’s child serving systems.

(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…

Florida $4 Million Damages Paid to Former Foster Children a Step Toward Fixing the System

August 24th, 2009   No Comments   Abuse, Damage Claims, Foster Care

When the Associated Press reported that the state of Florida will pay more than $3 million to two foster children for not preventing them from abuse and starvation in their Hernando County home, Department of Children and Families Secretary George Sheldon termed the case “horrific.”

John Joseph Edwards Jr., 19, and his half-sister, 15, received $700,000 and  $3.275 million, respectively. Their foster parents, Lori and Arthur “Tommy” Allain, received 25 years in prison for child abuse and neglect in 2006. Not only were the kids put in a dangerous home, a DCF panel that investigated said countless child welfare workers missed or ignored signs of abuse and found they allowed it to escalate.

Putting foster kids in dangerous homes, with little follow-up, and then paying settlements when things go horribly wrong has become an expensive reality — one that Sheldon is trying to correct. (more…)

Florida DCF Making Strides In Foster Care Issues

The Florida Department of Children & Families (DCF) has made strides of late, both in recognizing the need for — and furthering its protections of — children in the state’s foster care program.

But it has much to do and still farther to go. In a story, DCF Report Rips Way Kids Get Meds by the Fort Myers News-Press, Stan Appelbaum, chairman of the Local Advocacy Council for mental health, said “I’m not a happy camper with the way medications are being used. The first thing that I’d take away from this review is that it’s not a perfect system.” The article also called medicating children in state care an “unregulated, haphazard process in which drugs are prescribed to help caregivers calm difficult children instead of treating them,” according to an initial state review.

As the Miami Herald recently reported: A panel found that “Florida’s mental health system for foster kids relies far too often on drugs, with little oversight, according to a draft report on the suicide of 7-year-old Gabriel Myers.” Read the full article here. (more…)

Lawyers Go to Bat For Children in Florida Care

Plantation lawyers Howard Talenfeld & Jesse Diner hope to improve legal representation of kids in state care.

Jesse Diner, left, and Howard Talenfeld are working together to help Florida's foster care and vulnerable children.Jesse Diner, left, and Howard Talenfeld are working together to help Florida’s foster care and vulnerable children.

Two Broward lawyers are hoping to work toward a major change for kids who have been taken from troubled homes.

Howard Talenfeld and Jesse Diner, both of Plantation, say they want to make sure every child in state care has a voice when moving through the court system. Both have taken on lead roles in recent months with the Florida Bar Association and one of their main priorities will be to improve the legal representation of children in foster care.

“I realized the single greatest improvement we can make in the child welfare system is to give every child a voice when they are taken away from their parents,” said Talenfeld, a longtime foster care and child advocate attorney.

Read Complete Miami Herald Story Here.


Tracey McPharlin Elected Chair of Florida Bar Public Interest Law Section

July 16th, 2009   No Comments   Foster Care, News & Events

Tracey K. McPharlinTracey K. McPharlin, a partner in Fort Lauderdale law firm Colodny, Fass, Talenfeld, Karlinsky & Abate P.A., and specialist in foster children, foster care abuse, and damage claims, was elected 2009-2010 Chair of the Florida Bar Public Interest Law Section (“PILS”) on June 26 at the Florida Bar’s 2009 Annual Meeting.

McPharlin had served a statewide capacity as PILS Chair-Elect for the past year, during which she worked closely with outgoing Chair Maria Elena Abate, also a partner at Colodny, Fass, Talenfeld, Karlinsky & Abate. Together, the two worked to build the PILS membership base through added CLE programming and awareness efforts.

Both Abate and McPharlin, who works extensively on the firm’s cases involving foster children, foster care abuse, and damage claims, chaired the PILS Legal Needs of Children Committee in successive terms. (more…)