What is FCA?

Child Advocacy Blog


Archive for May, 2011

Florida DCF, Care Givers Say New Plan Will Improve System

Coming on the heels of the unsuccessful efforts of 20 private agencies that tried to have the Florida Legislature limit their liability, a “plan” is afoot to better protect foster and other vulnerable children Community Based Care providers are paid to manage. Notes the Palm Beach Post Editorial Board, “…A better use of their time will be putting into practice the changes that resulted from the terrible discovery three months ago along Interstate 95 in West Palm Beach.”

In a compelling editorial, the editorial board recounted “the horrific death of Nubia Barahona and equally horrific injuries sustained by her twin brother, Victor, allegedly at the hands of their adoptive parents.” The case “showed flaws in Florida’s child welfare system but did not indicate failure.

“Everybody started saying, ‘Well, the system is broken,’ ” said Carlos de la Cruz Jr., board chairman of Our Kids of Miami-Dade/Monroe, which handled the twins’ adoption. As he pointed out, that is not true.

Read the entire story here.

Legal Advocates: Barahona Adoption, Death Prompts Needed Changes at Agency Monitoring Foster Kids

Is change in the wake of the horrific death of Nubia Barahona and the critical injuries sustained by her twin brother sufficient to prevent future abuse to foster and adopted children in Florida? Without such change, lawsuits, damages, claims of personal injury and wrongful death will only continue, notes Florida child advocacy attorney Howard M. Talenfeld, president of Florida’s Children First.

Nubia Barahona

Nubia Barahona

The Palm Beach Post reports this week that “leaders of the private agency once charged with ensuring Nubia Barahona was safe with her adoptive family say the girl’s death has led to changes that could help caseworkers detect threats to foster children.”

“This case has caused a shift in [caseworkers’] thinking. — ‘Are these foster parents the good people? Do they want to adopt for good reasons?'” Our Kids CEO Frances Allegra, told the paper. Allegra recently co-wrote a 10-page plan to improve its case management in response to the death.

The paper notes that the final version of the plan has been reviewed and approved by Department of Children & Families Secretary David Wilkins. Read the Post’s story here.

Some Doctors on Payroll Prescribing Psychotropic ‘Chemical Restraints’ to Kids in Florida Juvenile Justice

May 22nd, 2011   No Comments   Psychotropic

Gabriel Myers, 7, died of suicide. Dennis Maltez, 12, died of serotonin syndrome. Both were on psychotropic medications later found to be excessive or inappropriate for their unique cases. Guardians, advocates and child welfare and foster care attorneys wonder: Could history be repeating itself?

For children in Florida’s juvenile jails, heavy doses of powerful antipsychotic medications seem to be the norm — especially when these “big guns” of psychiatry, which can cause suicidal thoughts and other dangerous side effects, are dispensed by doctors reportedly being speaking and other fees by pharmaceutical companies.

According to a Palm Beach Post investigative report, these drugs “routinely were doled out for reasons that never were approved by federal regulators.” In response to the report, the paper noted that the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice has “ordered a sweeping review of the department’s use of antipsychotic medications.”

“In some cases, the drugs are prescribed by contract doctors who have taken huge speaker fees and other gifts from makers of antipsychotic pills, companies that reap staggering profits selling medications,” the paper reported.

Regarding the level of use, Broward County Public Defender Howard Fink­elstein, whose office represents children in juvenile court, told the Post, “This is a very important issue. If kids are being given these drugs without proper diagnosis, and it is being used as a ‘chemical restraint,’ I would characterize it as a crime. A battery – a battery of the brain each and every time it is given.”

Read the entire story here.

Foster, Child Care Advocates: Miami’s Low Child Removal Rates ‘Keep You up Nights’

Miami-Dade County has the lowest rate of calls to the state’s child abuse hotline among Florida’s large counties, the Associated Press reports. Some experts say the reason is that Miami’s largest ethnic groups worry a call to the hotline — or any government agency — will only make matters worse.

For child welfare advocates, attorneys and guardians ad litem, that reality among Hispanic – namely Cuban – and Haitian communities could be one reason why Florida’s most populous county has the lowest percentage of children placed into foster care, the AP surmised.

Child care advocates also worry warning signs are going unheeded – that Miami-Dade investigators aren’t removing children and instead are hoping to keep families together.

“Miami keeps you up at night worrying because you know there are calls that aren’t coming in and cases we aren’t hearing about,” Alan Abramowitz, a former family safety director for the Department of Children and Families, told the AP.

Read the entire story here.

Child Advocacy Lawyer: Tale of Florida Boy Abused, Lost By Mom, Shuffled Through System ‘Appalling, More Common Than Anyone Knows’

May 15th, 2011   No Comments   Abuse, Advocacy

The story of a young boy abuse by his mother, then Florida’s child-welfare system, is a disturbing one. The Orlando Sentinel’s Lauren Ritchie tells of torture that started before the Leesburg boy was 2 — with his mother severely beating him, his life spent living in filth and his being subjected to unspeakable horrors. “For the next several years, she ground the soaring spirit of that child into ashes,” the paper says.

The boy was slapped and punched by the woman and her boyfriend, who frequently were on alcohol and drugs. His sister, then 9, was forced to perform sex acts with other men while he watched. The boy recalls his mother forcing him into sex acts with some of the men, the paper writes.

Eventually, state child-protection workers investigated complaints and finally took him and his sister away and put them in foster homes. Then, “for the next seven years — the boy is 12 now — he was shuffled through 20 foster homes, sometimes staying for only a day or two at each. In the homes, he was ‘repeatedly revictimized and retraumatized,'” the paper reports of his mental-health evaluations.

The paper’s reporting reflects a very detailed, sensitive story illustrating what Florida’s child welfare system does to so many children, wrote child advocacy attorney Howard Talenfeld in a letter to the reporter. “In many cases, like the one where I represent 10 siblings, they spend their entire childhoods in care and some end up in our prisons. Others are severely disabled, have their parental rights terminated, are reabused, never are adopted, and end up in group homes. The number of children who lose their natural parents and are never adopted is appalling.”

Read the Orlando Sentinel’s original story here.

Florida Child Welfare Costs Up Since Privatization. What About Care?

Low operational costs has been the promise of privatization of governmental services. Yet in child welfare — one of Florida’s longest-running and largest efforts into privatization — costs have risen, a Sun Sentinel analysis found. Meanwhile, advocates and child welfare attorneys wonder about the effects on vulnerable and foster children in programs overseen by the Department of Children and Families.

“Florida spends more than $1 billion a year on abused and neglected children, up from $717 million in 2000, when the state began farming out foster care and adoptions to private agencies, according to the state Department of Children & Families,” the paper reports.  “Adjusted for inflation, spending is up $105 million over 2000.”

“It’s not cheaper,” state Sen. Nan Rich, D-Weston, told the paper. “That’s what everyone says when they talk about privatization — it’s cheaper. That has not been proven.”

The paper’s takeaway: “Florida spends more today on child welfare despite caring for far fewer foster children. That’s because of a shift in favor of preventing abuse and keeping families together.” Read the entire story here.

From Florida to New York, Horrors of Child Abuse Know No Bounds

May 9th, 2011   No Comments   Abuse

Marchella Pierce didn’t have a chance. Born prematurely with underdeveloped lungs, she spent much of her four years in hospitals, being raised amid the chaos of a combative family struggling with drugs, and the Brooklyn, New York, child died at a mere 18 pounds — half what she reasonably should have weighed. Like cases involving the Florida Department of Children and Families, Pierce should have been overseen by New York’s child welfare agency — and a private organization hired to ensure her well being. She wasn’t.

Most sadly, as child attorneys and advocates have witnessed with our own sad examples here in Florida, the New York City Administration for Children’s Services, prosecutors say, essentially ignored the family, the New York Times wrote.

“She died in September by the ugliest means,” the paper continued. “She withered in poverty in a home in Brooklyn where the authorities said she had been drugged and often bound to a toddler bed by her mother, having realized a bare thimble’s worth of living.

“An examination of Marchella’s bleak, fleeting life, drawn from interviews with relatives, neighbors and law enforcement authorities, as well as from legal documents, shows that almost nothing went right for her,” the paper continued. Read the entire story here.

Calls to Palm Beach County (Florida) DCF Child Abuse Hotline Spike

Cases opened by the Florida Department of Children & Families child protection investigators in Palm Beach County resulting from calls to its child abuse hotline was the highest in March over the previous 10 years. The number of children removed from their homes also climbed in kind.

According to an article in the Palm Beach Post, “the local figures reflected statistics statewide and are almost certainly connected to at least one widely publicized case that unfolded in part in Palm Beach County: the death of Nubia Barahona, 10, who was found dead on Feb. 14 in the bed of a truck parked just off Interstate 95 near Palm Beach Lakes Boulevard.”

Read the entire story here.

Florida Assisted Living Facilities: Tarnishing the ‘Pride of Florida’

For more than a quarter century, Florida’s assisted living facilities (ALF) were the result of landmark legislation to provide protections, shelter and care for the elderly, infirm and mentally ill – some of Florida’s most vulnerable citizens. Today, thousands reside in these facilities. Many are restrained with straps or psychotropic medications, and abused by their caregivers. While covered by what should be stringent oversight, many facilities operate in the shadows, abusing residents, thwarting efforts to reel the facilities in, and tarnishing what some believe once were the “the pride of Florida.”

In a sweeping story, The Miami Herald investigates several facilities, like Sunshine Acres Loving Care. The paper reports that “…For more than a decade, Bruce Hall ran his assisted-living facility in Florida’s Panhandle like a prison camp. He punished his disabled residents by refusing to give them food and drugs. He threatened them with a stick. He doped them with powerful tranquilizers, and when they broke his rules, he beat them — sending at least one to the hospital.

“’The conditions in the facility are not fit even for a dog,’ one caller told state agents.”

Read the entire story here.