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Archive for September, 2011

Florida’s Children First Orlando Fundraiser Honors Those Who Help Foster Children

September 24th, 2011   No Comments   Advocacy, Fundraising & Support

Florida’s Children First, a statewide organization dedicated to protecting foster children and other at-risk youth, recognized Orlando individuals for their tireless work to advocate for the state’s most vulnerable citizens at its annual Fundraising and Awards Reception. About 80 of the area’s prominent business and community leaders, as well as individuals and families concerned about Florida’s foster care youth were in attendance to support the organization and its cause, raising nearly $5,000. Tampa Bay Buccaneers player Jeff Faine and Orlando Sentinel writer and foster parent George Diaz among those recognized.

The 2011 Orlando Child Advocates of the Year were Jeff Faine and Susan Khoury. Jeff is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers center and founder of The Faine House, a special home for youth aging out of the foster care system offering young adults a safe place to live while they complete their education or pursue career training.

Susan has been a Guardian ad Litem program director for the Orange County Bar Association for the past 23 years. She supervises more than 13 staff members who recruit, train and support approximately 700 lawyers in Orange County who volunteer to represent the best interest of children in the Orange County juvenile courts.


Florida DCF Hires 100 Investigators in Move to Prevent Foster, Adopted Child Deaths, Personal Injury

The Florida Department of Children and Families has hired 100 additional child investigators following the death this spring of Nubia Barahona, 10, and the critical, personal injury suffered by her twin brother, Victor. DCF administrators hope to reduce child investigator caseloads.

DCF has diverted millions of dollars from other areas to boost recruitment and training of child protective investigators. Secretary David Wilkins, speaking to legislative committees Tuesday, said his department has “reduced child investigator caseloads by 30 percent and plans to reduce them by another 30 percent,” notes WTVY.

“DCF is asking permission to redirect $35 million to revamp
technology and overhaul the abuse hotline,” the media outlet reported. “The Legislature provided $5 million last year to begin the process.”

Emotions Grow as Florida Senate Seeks to Curb Death, Personal Injury to Adopted, Foster Children

September 20th, 2011   No Comments   Abuse, Court Cases

In the wake of the death of adopted child, Nubia Barahona, and the critical, personal injury suffered by her twin brother, Victor, emotions rose among senators as they questioned why signs of danger were ignored. Florida Department of Children and Families Secretary David Wilkins said “breakdowns between investigators and supervisors kept the state from doing more to save” Nubia’s life, according to Capitol News. Jorge and Carmen Barahona, Nubia’s foster parents, were arrested for her death in February.

Wilkins says the department is open to any changes that would make Florida’s foster care system safer. Child advocacy attorneys and guardians statewide support changes that would prevent such lapses in the future.

Read the entire story here.

Florida DCF to Seek Budget Boost After Abuse, Death of Nubia Barahona

The abuse, torture and murder of Nubia Barahona, and the critical injuries and personal injury suffered by her twin brother, Victor, in West Palm Beach in February have the Florida Department of Children and Families seeking budget increases from state lawmakers to bolster child-protective investigations.

Although such action is commendable, the cutting of the budget to eliminate Quality Assurance workers and DCF’s lack of emphasis on the quality of case work is concerning. This reduces department oversight capabilities of their lead agencies and providers.

Nubia Barahona was found decomposing in the bed of her adoptive father’s pick-up truck three days after she’d been killed. Victor was in the passenger seat in critical condition. Both had been bound and brutalized – even as state investigators were outside the family home being misled by their adoptive mother, Carmen Barahona. Now, both Carmen and husband Jorge Barahona face first-degree murder charges.

According to Flagler Live, “A DCF budget proposal submitted this week seeks tens of millions of dollars to add and retain child-protective investigators, improve technology and better coordinate efforts with local law enforcement…The budget documents outline problems with high turnover among investigators, large caseloads and low pay.”

Read the entire story here.

Florida DCF Secretary Bid to Help Foster Children, Curb Dropouts, Track Abuse Could Avoid Personal Injury

As poverty climbs, Florida Department of Children and Families Secretary David Wilkins says he’s working to aid foster kids, decrease high school dropouts, and better fund independent living. By the assessment of any advocate, children’s rights attorney or guardian ad litem attorney, “optimistic” isn’t typically a word associated with the DCF. “Given the state agency’s past, high-profile failings in living up to its mission to provide services to the abused, poor and downtrodden, the two rarely make it in the same sentence,” writes the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

“But David Wilkins, the man who now heads DCF, is optimistic, particularly about the funding prospects DCF faces in next year’s budget. He doesn’t anticipate another round of major cuts, nor should he, given the workload the department faces, and its bureaucratic challenges in addressing them.”

Read the entire story here.

‘Age Out’ Woes: Advocates, Attorneys Fear Florida Foster Children Face Hard Times as Adults in Tough Economy

September 15th, 2011   No Comments   Aging Out, Education Issues

In Fort Lauderdale, Broward County and across Florida, foster kids who leave the system – or ‘age out’ of foster care – at 18 find themselves struggling in a tough job market. Child care advocates, legal needs attorneys, and others say internships yield work experience – but in temporary jobs. Many former foster kids also lack personal and financial “management” skills needed to be self-sufficient, independent and to thrive in the workplace.

Statewide, data shows that some 47 percent of teens in foster care graduate with a high school diploma. Across the U.S., unemployment among “aged out” foster kids hovers around 56 percent, according to an article in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Moreover, about 15 percent become homeless for one or more months within 12 months of leaving foster care, the paper reported.

“Between 2010 and 2011, about 100 teens in Broward and 80 in Palm Beach County aged out,” the paper reported. If they stay enrolled in school or meet other requirements, they may receive some $1,200 monthly from the state until they hit 23. Education, job training, finding mentors and learning life skills are key to thriving independently.

Read the entire story on aged out foster kids in the tough economy here.

Disappearance, Presumed Death of Miami Foster Child Rilya Wilson Puts Florida DCF in the Spotlight

September 10th, 2011   No Comments   Abuse, Court Cases, Damage Claims

By Gloria W. Fletcher

The tale of Rilya Wilson is as heartbreaking as they come – even if the Florida Department of Children and Families, child care attorneys, legal advocates, guardians and others don’t know for certain the whereabouts of the Miami foster child. Wilson was 4 when she disappeared in 2000. Her case raised an uproar among child welfare advocates who let it be known that there were over 400 missing foster children like Rilya on any one day in Florida.

Although there were exhaustive efforts to find Rilya and some systemic reforms implemented to find other missing foster children, some 11 years later, no one has seen her since – and her onetime caregiver, Geralyn Graham, stands accused of kidnapping, abusing and smothering her. Indicted in 2005, she is scheduled to stand trial for first degree murder later this year.

Throughout the intervening years, the Florida Department of Children and Families has borne the brunt of criticism of its handling of such cases. Such was the case with the death of 10-year-old Nubia Barahona and the critical injuries suffered by her twin brother, Victor, allegedly at the hands of adoptive parents Jorge Barahona and his wife, Carmen. The couple faces the death penalty, if convicted.


ChildLaw Blog: New York Child Abuse Cases Similarly Disturbing

September 6th, 2011   No Comments   Abuse, Adoption, Court Cases

The ChildLaw Blog writes how “Echos of the Masha Allen case play out in a New York courtroom.” The editorial focuses on the story of adoptive parent Judith Leekin, and how details of her child abuse and the personal injury it caused disabled kids “share shocking similarities to Masha Allen’s second adoption.” The writer commented that, according to the New York Times…

“More than 30 years ago, a Queens foster mother was investigated and cited for scalding a boy in her care. But despite that finding, the city did nothing in the decades that followed to prevent the woman, Judith Leekin, from carrying out one of the most brazen and disturbing child welfare schemes in recent memory.

“The failure of child welfare officials to bar Ms. Leekin from the system after that 1980 episode is one of the most striking revelations in new court reports filed in a Brooklyn lawsuit. Ms. Leekin was arrested in 2007; the authorities determined she had adopted 11 disabled New York foster children using aliases, then moved to Florida, where she subjected them to years of abuse — all the while collecting $1.68 million in subsidies from New York City until 2007.

Read the entire story here.

Florida Court Documents Reveal Judith Leekin Accused of Abusing Foster Children Back to 1980

September 1st, 2011   No Comments   Abuse, Court Cases

Judith Leekin, cited in Broward County, Florida, for abusing foster children, was cited for abusing a child in 1980 in Queens, N.Y. But instead of stopping future adoptions, Leekin was allowed to adopt 11 disabled New York City foster and disabled children. She reportedly abused them in St. Lucie County, Florida, more than a decade later, according to new court documents. Abuse included beating, handcuffing, forcing them to sleep in a closet, keeping them from school and refusing them medical care, Port St. Lucie police reported. She also defrauded New York state’s adoption system out of $1.68 million, according to a federal court ruling.

Read the entire story here.