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Archive for June, 2009

Though Renewed, ChildNet Must Reduce Re-Abuse of Kids in System

June 27th, 2009   No Comments   Abuse, Foster Care

Once troubled ChildNet foster care agency signs 5-year contract with Broward

By Jon Burstein: South Florida Sun-Sentinel

The private nonprofit agency running Broward County’s child welfare system seemed on the verge of chaos — FBI agents raided its main office, the state threatened to pull funding and the group’s board fired the chief executive officer. All of those woes engulfed ChildNet within a matter of hours April 13, 2007 — a day dubbed “Black Friday” by some local child welfare advocates.

On Thursday, the same Fort Lauderdale building where FBI agents once draped crime scene tape was the scene of another significant day in ChildNet’s history, this time a happy one. The group’s president signed a $333 million contract with the state Department of Children & Families to continue managing Broward foster care for the next five years.

Read Full Article Here

Howard Talenfeld, president of the advocacy group Florida’s Children First, commended current ChildNet President and CEO Emilio Benitez’s efforts in improving child welfare services, but said he’s still seeing a disturbing trend of children who after entering the ChildNet system are placed in situations where they are abused again.

In addition, it would have been unusual for another company to be chosen to take over ChildNet’s contract, Talenfeld said.

“The nature of the system is structured in such a way that it’s virtually impossible for a new agency to come in and compete with the holder of an existing contract,” he said.

FlaBar President Diner Makes Legal Representation of Foster Children a Critical Priority

For far too long, Florida foster children haved needed their own voice and legal counsel in their own dependency case and now before other state and local agencies that make critical decisions that critically affect their lives.

Representation should be of primary concern. Currently, only 60-80% of children in the dependency system are represented by the GAL program – and very few by attorneys. Quality representation of each child in foster care, before School Boards, Agency for Persons with Disabilities, and the Agency for Healthcare Administration, to name a few agencies, may be the single most important step we can take to positively impact the lives of foster children.

This year, Jesse Diner, President-Elect of the Florida Bar, has placed among his highest priorities taking the recommendations of the 2002 Commission on the Legal Needs of Children and introducing legislation to create a Statewide Office of the Children’s Advocate.

My appointment this May to chair the Florida Bar Association’s Legal Needs of Children Committee is part of that goal. Our committee will help write legislative language and seek passage of laws and regulations critical to fulfilling the state’s mandate to serve the best interests of the children in its care. (more…)

Sun-Sentinel: Child’s Death Exposes a Big Problem in Foster-Care Reform

THE ISSUE: Child’s death exposes a big problem in foster-care reform.

Sun Sentinel Editorial Board

It wasn’t that long ago when the Florida Department of Children & Families was seen as a hapless bureaucracy. Whether it was their seeking to incarcerate an 8-year-old to ensure he received proper care, or simply losing youngsters supposedly under its care, it didn’t take much for DCF to make a mockery of its role in child welfare.

The good news is that DCF is no longer that troubled agency. Unfortunately, many of those problems that once bedeviled DCF now belong to those local nonprofits and government agencies that are under contract with the state to provide foster care and other child protective services. Thank community-based care for that. (more…)

Florida Department of Children and Families’ Role ‘Should’ be to Protect Foster Kids

By Brian J. Cabrey

As published as a letter to the editor in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel

The April 16 suicide death of 7-year-old Gabriel Myers, a foster child in the custody and care of the Florida Department of Children and Families, shocks the conscience. Gabriel apparently hung himself with the shower hose in the bathroom of his foster home in Margate.

The victim of sexual abuse, as well as other abuse and neglect that resulted in him being removed from his family and placed in foster care, Gabriel had been prescribed a variety of mind-altering psychotropic medications while in foster care to deal with the myriad behavioral problems he was experiencing, no doubt largely the result of the abuse he had suffered. Reports are that he was on three or four different drugs, or combinations thereof, at the time of his death.

What is almost as shocking to the conscience as a 7-year-old wanting to, knowing how to and actually committing suicide, is that a 7-year-old would be on not just one, but multiple psychotropic medications. Most such drugs have never been tested for pediatric use, and have not been FDA-approved for such use. Their prescription and use with kids is generally “off label,” meaning there are no approved instructions or guidelines for such use. (more…)

It’s Time to Recognize – And Appreciate – Florida’s Foster Parents

June 7th, 2009   No Comments   Foster Care
George Sheldon

George Sheldon

George H. Sheldon is Secretary of the Florida Department of Children and Families. This column originally appeared in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

It is time to recognize the thousands of Florida foster parents who open their hearts and their homes to children in need of a safe, loving and nurturing environment, and who — when the time is right — can let them go again.

Foster parents have the ability to love a child as their own, regardless of whether the child lives with them for a month or a year. They have the challenging task of providing an environment that helps a child heal and prepare to go back home, if possible, or to a new permanent home. Foster parents are a vital resource for these children as they wait between a painful past and an uncertain future. (more…)

Florida Uses Electronic Records to Place Foster Kids in Relatives’ Homes Out-of-State

June 5th, 2009   No Comments   Foster Care

Waiting for a permanent home for weeks or months may feel like an eternity to a Florida child in foster care.

It is especially frustrating when a grandmother, aunt or other relative living out of state is ready and willing to provide a home for a boy or girl removed from a family because of abuse or neglect.

The Florida Department of Children and Families’ (DCF) response has been to implement a fully electronic database to facilitate the transfer of dependent children outside of Florida.

Once the Department committed itself last year to speeding up out-of-state transfer of a child by using electronic records, DCF has significantly reduced the time it takes to exchange required information about the child with the appropriate state. Florida is the leader among the states in its use of electronic records for what is known as the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC).

The price-tag on converting to electronic records was $3,000, and about $100,000 a year is being saved on postage. (more…)

Attorneys: Florida Agency for Persons With Disabilities Must Curtail Psychotropic Use in APD Residential Facilities

June 4th, 2009   No Comments   Foster Care, Psychotropic

Psychotropic medications used without appropriate consent of parents and guardians has hit near epidemic proportions in the Florida foster care and group home setting. The public first realized this with the suicide of Gabriel Myers, 7, and weeks later, with a wrongful death lawsuit filed following the overdose of Denis Martez, 12.

The situation needs improved oversight — and the practice must stop.

In the following letter to Jim DeBeaugrine, Director of the Florida Agency for Persons with Disabilities, attorneys Howard Talenfeld and Maria Elena Abate, partners with the Fort Lauderdale law firm Colodny, Fass, Talenfeld, Karlinsky & Abate, P.A., call for Mr. DeBeaugrine to survey all licensed group homes working with his Agency as a first step in curtailing such use.

See the original letter here.

June 4, 2009
Jim DeBeaugrine, Director
Florida Agency for Persons with Disabilities
Tallahassee, FL  32399

Re:  Death of Dennis Maltez–Investigation of Psychotropic Drug Use in Group Homes

Dear Director DeBeaugrine,

As attorneys for the estate of Denis Maltez, and long-time advocates for the rights of society’s most vulnerable citizens, we are very concerned about the role psychotropic drugs played in his death from serotonin syndrome. I know that you are quite familiar with this case as your agency took emergency action and suspended the license of Rainbow Ranches, in part because of the inappropriate use of such drugs. (more…)

Crist Signing Supports Florida Foster Kids in Education, Healthcare

June 2nd, 2009   No Comments   Foster Care, News & Events
Child advocate attorney Howard Talenfeld greets Florida Gov. Charlie Crist at the historic signing ceremony.

Child advocate attorney Howard Talenfeld greets Florida Gov. Charlie Crist at the historic signing ceremony.

Florida’s foster children have a friend in Governor Charlie Crist.

With child advocate lawyers and other activists looking on, the governor in May signed legislation designed to help foster children statewide.

At a signing ceremony at the Children’s Services Council in Fort Lauderdale, Crist signed into law bills to help grant foster kids access to records for medical and educational needs.

The legislation benefits children in foster care as well as young people leaving foster care. The move “provides children in foster care better access to their own personal records often needed for medical and educational purposes.  Senate Bill 1128 ensures that disabled homeless children and children in foster care receive appropriate educational services,” wrote Foster News Folly.

The bills can be credited, in part, to members of Florida Youth Shine, a statewide advocacy group that specializes in foster care and child welfare issues. “You’re great advocates, you truly are,” Crist said.

Florida Foster Children Get Too Many Psychotropic Drugs With Too Little Oversight from State DCF

June 1st, 2009   No Comments   Foster Care, Psychotropic

Gabriel Myers (image from Florida DCF)The Florida Department of Children and Families Work Group issued its report on the role psychotropic medications played in the April suicide of Gabriel Myers – and the results were stark and unacceptable.

In the report issued this week, the DCF reported that 2,669 of Florida’s 20,235 foster children under the age of 17 were given one or more psychotropic drugs – with one in six, or about 16 percent, lacking required permissions. Some 73 kids 5 or younger are on the drugs.

Most shocking: Florida passed a law in 2005 requiring parental consent or a judge’s approval before administering psychotropic drugs.

Why is this important? These powerful psychological and mood-altering medications are used to control children’s behavior often in lieu of appropriate behavioral interventions. Many are often prescribed even though there is no FDA approval and there are significant side effects, including depression that could lead to suicide. Thus, they must be administered in appropriate situations where behavioral interventions have been exhausted, with a court order and under the close supervision of prescribing physicians well versed with the individual child’s health and care regimen. (more…)