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Archive for July, 2011

Palm Beach County School Board Approves Limited Use of Prone Restraint on Special Needs Children

July 31st, 2011   No Comments   Advocacy, Special Needs

Putting aside the complaints of child advocates, a legal aid attorney, parents and two of its own members, the Palm Beach County School Board last week voted 4-2 to continue the practice prone restraint — albeit as a last resort — when for subduing special-needs children, the Sun-Sentinel wrote.

The paper also reported that “federal studies have linked the use of prone restraint in other parts of the country to injuries and deaths. A Palm Beach Post series last year noted hundreds of incidents where the technique was used and the complaints of some parents who called for a ban on prone restraint.”

Some wanted the practice banned. Barbara Briggs, an attorney for the Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County, cited the case of an autistic kindergarten student subdued using prone restraint 14 times last year, sometimes for as long as 30 to 35 minutes. Read the entire story here.

Barahona Abuse Case Motivates DCF Secretary Wilkins to Improve Abuse Hotline

David Wilkins, secretary of the Florida Department of Children and Families, says the agency has made changes following the “horrific” child abuse case of Miami twins Victor and Nubia Barahona. Wilkins says the changes were created to help prevent abuse from occuring again.

Wilkins says DCF has put in place 19 short-term changes to improve the safety of children under its care. Changes include new procedures for hotline workers and working more closely on investigations with law enforcement. Florida children now are safer as a result of the changes, Wilkins says, according to First Coast News.

The changes follow the February discovery of Nubia Barahona, who was found dead in a garbage bag in her adoptive father, Jorge Barahona’s truck in Palm Beach County. Her twin brother, Victor, was found doused with toxic chemicals and left clinging to life. A report released from a Miami-Dade County grand jury that found DCF missed signs of abuse in the case, placed too much trust in the adoptive parents and failed to communicate effectively with child abuse investigators, according to First Coast News. Read the entire story here.

Teen Dies in Lockup, Department of Juvenile Justice Staffers Suspended, Advocates Question Hiring, Promotions

In yet another case that leaves children’s rights advocates wondering how systems and fail safes put in place to protect the vulnerable and avoid damages and personal injury and wrongful death claims get side-stepped, the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice is investigating the death of a teen in its care – and under the watch of at least one employee with questionable work records, according to news reports.

Laryell King, a guard at the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice West Palm Beach facility where an 18-year-old teen died, had been force to leave her last job. She even had a note in her file: “NO rehire in any position.” Another staffer, lockup superintendent Anthony C. Flowers, had his own “checkered work history,” notes The Miami Herald, after reviewing both staffers’ records. Yet, both were hired or promoted — and now are two of five staffers who were suspended after the death of Eric Perez, who died after a night of vomiting, complaining of headaches and possible hallucinations.

Child advocates and children’s rights attorneys are left to wonder why the two were rehired or promoted through the system. Read the entire Miami Herald story here.

Florida Department of Children and Families Blasted in Barahona Abuse Case Grand Jury Report

July 26th, 2011   No Comments   Abuse, News & Events

In a case that Florida foster care and adoption advocates, attorneys and others have watched for months, a Miami-Dade grand jury delivered a scathing report related to Jorge and Carmen Barahona – the Miami couple accused of abusing and neglecting their adopted twin children. “Gripped by ‘a persistent, insidious bias of trust,’ (DCF) caseworkers and investigators gave Jorge and Carmen Barahona a pass every time concerns were raised that the couple was abusing and neglecting their adoptive children,” the grand jury said in its report, the Miami Herald wrote.

“So trusting was a state Department of Children & Families investigator that, on Feb. 10, when the agency received a report that adoptive twins Victor and Nubia Barahona were being tied up and locked in a bathtub, she left the Barahona home without ever seeing the children,” the Herald wrote of the report. ” She later wrote that the twins were at little risk of harm…’Were Nubia and Victor in the house tied up in that bathtub at that very moment?’ grand jurors asked in a strongly worded 25-page report. ‘We will never know.'”

Read the entire article here.

Florida Judge: Victor Barahona Dependency Hearing Closed to Public

The South Florida dependency court hearings for Victor Barahona, the young boy allegedly abused by his adoptive parents, will be closed to the news media and public, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Maria Sampedro-Iglesia ruled this week. Victor is one of three adopted children of Jorge and Carmen Barahona. The parents are accused of fatally abusing Nubia, Victor’s twin sister.

Judge Sampedro-Iglesia ruled that closing the hearings would be “in the best interest of the children.” The Guardian ad Litem program requested the hearings be closed. The news media, including the Miami Herald and local television station WPLG ABC10, had argued against closing the hearings, the Herald reported.

Read the entire story of Victor Barahona’s dependency hearing here.

Florida Lawmakers Reject Child Abuse Funds, Some Blame Health Care Law

When the federal government offered some $50 million in funds earmarked for child-abuse prevention, some would have jumped at the chance to use such money to help society’s most vulnerable: Abused and neglected children. Instead, Florida lawmakers rejected the grants, which were tied to the federal Affordable Health Care Act. The reason: Lawmakers don’t approve of the Obama administration’s health care reform package.

“This is just crazy,” Gwen Wurm, assistant professor of clinical pediatrics at the University of Miami, and a board member of the Our Kids foster care agency, told the Miami Herald. “This is the model for what you want in a prevention program. They have proven results.”

What’s more, the federal Race to the Top educational-reform effort is tied to Healthy Families’ child-abuse prevention program. This could result in the loss of a $100 million, four-year federal block grant. Read the entire story here.

Florida Man Recovers $409,662 Embezzled by Former Foster Parents

Chalk one up for the good guys. Based on an alert by Howard M. Talenfeld, a Fort Lauderdale children’s rights attorney and foster child advocate, federal authorities were able to help former Florida foster child Markus Min Ho Kim recover $409,662 embezzled by his former foster parents.

Recovery gives Markus Kim reason to smile

Recovery gives Markus Kim reason to smile

Kim had contacted Talenfeld in 2008 about the theft. Talenfeld then alerted federal authorities to the embezzlement by his adoptive parents, Radhames and Asia Oropeza of Davenport, Florida. They had stolen life insurance money that came from Kim’s mother, who was slain in 2000 by his father, leaving Kim an orphan. Kim’s father currently is serving a life sentence in New York.

U.S. attorney for the Middle ­District of Florida, Robert E. O’Neill, said full recovery of a court-ordered victim restitution of such a large-scale fraud is rare, wrote the Ledger.

“The amount symbolized his slain mother’s hope for a better future and his adopted parents’ betrayal,” the paper wrote. Said Kim, now 25, “I don’t think I can put into words what it truly means to me.”

Read the entire story here.

Florida Lawyers Argue Whether Victor Barahona Dependency Hearing Should be Open or Closed

July 19th, 2011   No Comments   Abuse, Adoption, Court Cases

Should dependency hearings related to the case of Victor Barahona be open or closed? That’s the question posed by advocates, guardians ad litem and media attorneys – and now facing a judge this week in Miami. Lawyers were arguing whether to close or keep open hearings regarding the boy, who at 10 was severely abused earlier this year, along his twin sister, Nubia. Nubia died from her injuries.

Jorge Barahona, their Miami, Florida, adoptive father, was found with Victor in critical condition and Nubia dead in Jorge’s pick-up truck. Both were victims of alleged abuse. An independent panel later found that Florida Department of Children and Families case workers’ efforts in the Barahona case were shoddy and was the result of “fatal ineptitude.”

According to the Miami Herald, “Lawyers for the Guardian Ad Litem program argued before Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Maria Sampedro-Iglesia that the hearings should be closed to protect Victor.” Read the entire story here.

In Florida and U.S., Aging Out Means New Issues for Foster Care Kids

In Florida and nationally, foster care was designed to provide a safe haven for society’s most vulnerable citizens – the abused, neglected and overlooked children. Yet, what happens when they “age out” — turning 18, independent and no longer wards of the state? As this article shows, in Washington state, as well as in Florida and nationwide, advocates, rights attorneys and guardians ad litem have worked tirelessly to help kids find independence once beyond the support of the foster care system.

In the article, “State’s foster care system discharges ill-equipped young adults; Despite program’s good intentions, teens are out on their own and unprepared,” The Spokane Review writes of a national issue: Kids who on their 18th birthday, some with behavioral health problems, are turned out of group or foster homes where they’d spent their lives in the state’s care. They are to start on their own — often unprepared.

“Recently cut off of the powerful psychotropic drugs that had been used to control his aggression, Tyler Dorsey ended up in the Spokane County Jail on a domestic violence charge six weeks after aging out of child welfare,” the publication wrote.

“A new state law might have protected Dorsey, who was turned away by numerous agencies because of his juvenile record of assault…[The law] entitles foster youth without a high school diploma or GED to remain in foster care until age 21 by opting into the federal Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act.”

Read the entire story here.

Research Backs Need to Help Foster Kids Aging Out of System

July 12th, 2011   No Comments   Aging Out, Foster Care

Foster kids who “age out” or turn 18 and are forced to leave state care face a daunting future. Whether in Florida or elsewhere in the county, they often have faced emotional, physical or sexual abuse. Many lack emotional maturity needed for self-sufficiency. Rarely tasked with handling their own finances, they’re forced to do so soon after release from foster care. Never or rarely having lived on their own, their “independence” comes quickly — often faster than they’ve been prepared to handle. One study found that about 16% of kids aging out will end up homeless.

Various research reveals how unprepared foster kids are for their new-found independence. A groundbreaking 2010 report from the University of Chicago delved deeply into the effects of aging out on former foster care kids.

With the Florida Department of Children and Families and national-wide with state-run organizations charged with protecting foster kids and preparing them for their futures, many kids “fall through the cracks.”

Research shows how vulnerable they are once released from care — and how some organizations are helping with the transition. One report, from the National Alliance to End Homelessness in America 2011, found that that “one in six young adults who age out of foster care is likely to experience homelessness.”

Read this article on National Public Radio about kids aging out of foster care — and efforts to help them.

Florida Department of Children and Families Hurries To Test New Welfare Applicants

Rushing to make good on Gov. Rick Scott’s and the Florida Legislature’s push to test applicants, Florida social service officials mapped out and sought final public input on broad policy guidelines as the state launches its drug testing of new applicants for welfare benefits.

According to NorthEscambia.com, “Following up on legislation passed by lawmakers only a few months ago to require applicants for temporary financial assistance to take drug tests, Department of Children and Families officials said formal procedures would not be ready until mid-July at the earliest but the agency would proceed nonetheless to administer the new law.”

The Website continued, “Among a litany of concerns from stakeholders, including Florida Legal Services and the ACLU, were questions of whether applicants who test positive for drugs would be immediately flagged by DCF and risk having their children removed from their custody.” Read the entire story here.