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Archive for August, 2011

Child Welfare Attorneys: Now in Florida and Federal Courts, New York Child Abuse Case Points to Lapses

August 25th, 2011   No Comments   Abuse, Adoption, Court Cases

The widely publicized child abuse case of Judith Leekin — and the personal injury it caused the children she cared for — has been portrayed in the media and by children’s rights attorneys as a significant breakdown in New York’s adoption system. Documents, which provide a look into her motives, are part of a 2009 civil rights lawsuit against the city brought in Federal District Court on behalf of 10 of those children (the 11th disappeared while in her care and is presumed dead), the New York Times wrote.

The Times reported, “The suit refers to the city’s child welfare system as ‘a maze of dysfunctional bureaucracy operating under unconstitutional policies and practices.’ It also charges negligence by three private organizations that had city contracts to handle some of the adoptions.”

Read the entire New York Times story of Judith Leekin here.

Victor Barahona, Florida Child Abuse Victim, in Custody Battle

August 19th, 2011   No Comments   Abuse, Court Cases, News & Events

Victor Barahona, the Miami, Florida, boy who suffered terrible personal injury when he was tortured – and his twin sister killed – allegedly by their adoptive parents, today is in a custody battle playing out in a Miami courtroom. Florida child advocates and others are watching as a judge decides whether Victor will go to Texas relatives, or stays in Florida to await the trial of Jorge and Carmen Barahona.

“Over the past three days, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Maria Sampedro-Iglesia conducted a hearing to determine who should get custody of the now-11-year-old survivor of a harrowing, yearslong ordeal in the adoptive home of Carmen and Jorge Barahona, the couple charged with killing his twin sister Nubia and torturing him,” the Miami Herald wrote.

Florida child welfare officials prefer the boy be raised by his uncle and extended family in Texas. The courts will decide.

Read the entire story of Victor Barahona here.

Florida DCF Warns to Protect Public From Drownings – a Leading Cause of Death, Personal Injury

August 18th, 2011   No Comments   News & Events

In Jacksonville, Florida, this week, a 6-year-old boy was found dead at the bottom of a pool near his Cedar Hills home. Jacksonville Police said he could not be revived. Homicide detectives said no foul play is suspected. They were investigating the circumstances of Jason Howell’s death. The Florida Department of Children and Families, who had a representative there on an unrelated matter, also was investigating the drowning.

As the third child drowning Northeast Florida in the past few weeks, DCF urged people to be cautious when children are around pools. In Florida, drowning is the leading cause of death to children under the age of 4. Read the entire story here.

Florida DCF Report on Children’s Deaths: Hot Cars, Drowning Among Causes

Reginald McKinnon’s daughter, Payton, was just 17 months when she died after being left in the family car for several hours, reports the News-Press. “Nothing can prepare you for finding your own child. It’s crippling,” said McKinnon, who accidentally left Payton strapped in her car seat in 2010 in Fort Myers. She died from excessive body temperature. According to the Florida Department of Children and Families, Payton was one of some 250 child deaths the agency has investigated over the past 15 years in Southwest Florida.

“DCF released an analysis of most of those deaths earlier this week. In 2010, DCF investigated 36 deaths of local children. This year, the number has hit 14, including a recent drowning of a 2-year-old boy in Collier County and a baby left in a hot car in Cape Coral,” the paper reported. Read the entire story here.

‘On Your Own But Not Alone’ – Former Foster Child, Attorney, Recover Stolen Money

August 12th, 2011   No Comments   Advocacy

This is the story of a child adopted by manipulative parents, robbed of $400,000 in life insurance money his mother left to him – and one child advocacy attorney’s successful effort to seek full recovery for the child left alone and penniless. ‘On your own but not alone’ is the story of Markus Kim and Fort Lauderdale attorney Howard Talenfeld’s pro bono quest to make things right.

As a member of the Bar’s Legal Needs of Children Committee, Talenfeld has seen horrible, deplorable crimes. Yet the 2008 call from a legal aid lawyer in New York was different. As the Florida Bar News wrote, …”that call led [Talenfeld] to Kim, a former foster child whose adoptive parents conned him out of $400,000 of life insurance money left to him by his deceased mother. Those parents took the money after Kim turned 18 — when the policy took effect — then fled to Florida, using the funds to pay off mortgages.”

Read the entire story here.

Florida Department of Children and Families: Casey Anthony’s ‘Failure to Protect’ Contributed to Caylee’s Death

August 11th, 2011   No Comments   Abuse, Court Cases, News & Events

After a nearly three-year investigation and a comprehensive review of Caylee Anthony’s death, officials from the Florida Department of Children and Families have concluded that her death was caused, in part, by Casey Anthony’s “failure to protect” her young daughter.

Casey Anthony was acquitted in July by an Orlando, Florida, jury of murdering Caylee. In its report, DCF officials wrote, “It is the conclusion of the Department of Children and Families that [Casey Anthony] failed to protect her child from harm either through her actions or lack of actions, which tragically resulted in the child’s untimely death.”

“The nearly three-year Investigation verified three allegations classified as ‘maltreatments,’ including death, failure to protect and threatened harm,” the Orlando Sentinel reported. Read more here.

New ‘Chief Child Advocate’ Ann Scott Has Child Advocates, Attorneys Hopeful She Can Continue Florida’s Progress in Adopting its Foster Children

Amid budget cuts and tough times for Florida’s most vulnerable citizens, Florida Gov. Rick Scott has named his wife and First Lady, Ann Scott, to the role of Florida’s “Chief Child Advocate.” Her predecessor, Jim Kallinger, made great strides in raising adoptions and lowering the number of kids in state care. Statewide and in the Department of Children and Families, tidings are tough: Funding for children and social services is low – and dropping, and needs of its most vulnerable are high – and growing.

Ms. Scott has a significant role ahead of her in advocating for the state’s most vulnerable citizens: Abused, neglected and abandoned children who end up “in the system” as foster children or seeking adoption. Former state Rep. Jim Kallinger, appointed by Gov. Charlie Crist, held the role as a full-time employee. Meanwhile, oversight and lapses by the DCF have resulted in lawsuits, damage claims and significant awards.


Florida Department of Children and Families Miami Administrator Stepping Down

Jacqui Colyer, the Florida Department of Children and Families’ Miami Director, is retiring from her post. Colyer had some two decades’ experience in social services. In an email to staff, DCF Secretary David Wilkins lauded for her “passion and commitment.” But it was the death of Nubia Barahona, and critical injuries to her brother, Victor — two adopted children under the oversight of Colyer’s office — that focused attention on the system. Three DCF workers were either fired or resigned. Colyer and four others were reprimanded for their handling of the Barahona case.

Jacqui Colyer of Florida DCF

Jacqui Colyer of Florida DCF

Still, Colyer had some successes during her time at the top. “During her tenure, the number of children removed from their parents and placed in licensed foster care dropped by 35 percent. DCF also developed 400 community centers, such as medical clinics, where struggling families could apply for food stamps. The centers made it easier for the poor to seek help at locations close to home. Colyer said the agency worked with Miami’s early learning coalition to improve the quality of licensed child care centers and provide better staff training in detecting and preventing child abuse,” the Miami Herald wrote.

A long-time community advocate and once an adoptive parent of a troubled child, Colyer will stay on in a different role with the DCF, according to news reports. Read the entire story here.

Mental Health Privatization Plan Could Harm Mentally Ill, Result in Lawsuits and Damage Claims

The Department of Children and Families plan to privatize mental health services has been called by one judge a “rush to privatization…that will harm Broward’s mentally ill” and mental health patients, and one that’s “going to take a bad system and make it even worse” by Broward Public Defender Howard Finkelstein. Worse still, attorneys and advocates believe it could result in harm, injuries, even avoidable, wrongful death — and personal injury lawsuits and damage claims.

The Sun-Sentinel wrote, “The privatization wave that has swept over so much of state government was supposed to come to Broward’s mental health administration by 2013. But budget cuts to Florida’s Department of Children & Families have prompted a speedup, with DCF now trying to hand off oversight duties to a private Miami-Dade-based outfit by Oct. 1.”

Read the entire story here.

Florida DCF Secretary Adds Investigators to Nubia Barahona Death, but Misses Lessons Learned After Rilya Wilson’s Disappearance

Florida Department of Children and Families Secretary David Wilkins plan to decrease visitation and quality assurance related to foster children in the agency’s care raises questions about lessons learned following the disappearance of Miami child Rilya Wilson. The result could be more lawsuits and damage claims lodged as vulnerable children in the system are lost or overlooked.

Visitation is a key component in the care of these children. Case workers develop the rapport of a therapeutic relationship with the children. It’s been shown that if something’s going wrong in the household, children are more likely to open up to an adult they trust. Relying on computerization and audits will not work. You cannot de-emphasize the child being visited; you cannot replace the value and impact of a quality visit – and the quality assurance that tracks visits. Otherwise, the system is operating in the dark.

Cuts have proven ominous. Earlier this year, Gov. Rick Scott ordered billions in state budget cuts, which resulted in the elimination of 500 of the DCF’s 13,000 positions.

“We made a lot of mistakes,” Wilkins told the Daytona Beach News-Journal this week. He was referring to the case of Nubia Barahona, whose adoptive parents have been charged in her death and her brother’s torture. “It heightened for me the importance of improved child safety.”

Wilkins said change is afoot. According to the paper, “He said he would take aim at practices that have been rendered unnecessary with new technologies. The requirement that DCF caseworkers visit children in their custody every 30 days — formulated in response to the disappearance of 5-year-old Rilya Wilson in 2000 — could be de-emphasized in favor of better electronic monitoring of school, medical and department records.” He added, “Don’t be afraid of change.”