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Archive for December, 2012

Pro Bono Attorney: Florida’s Practice of ‘Warehousing’ Disabled Children in Geriatric Nursing Homes

The case was dramatic – where most tend not to be. In a hearing room, a single mother – present with her severely disabled 10-year-old daughter – fought state healthcare administrators to give her child the care doctors say she needs. With child advocacy attorney Howard Talenfeld at her side, the woman alternated between stating her case – and providing the type of care she insists the child will not get if sent off to a geriatric nursing home, like so many such disabled children are under Florida guidelines and practices.

She’s not alone. “In September, the U.S. Justice Department said Florida had ‘planned, structured and administered a system of care that has led to the unnecessary segregation and isolation of children, often for many years,’ in geriatric nursing homes,” reported the Miami Herald.

“Children in such homes often spend their days in virtual seclusion, lying in bed or watching television, the civil rights division wrote.” With Talenfeld at her side and handling the case pro bono, the single mother sought to fight the way Florida cares for its most at-risk, disabled children.

Children’s Rights Attorneys, DJJ Officials Dismayed at Juvenile Guard’s Reported Abuse of Teen

Attorneys and guardians who advocate for children’s rights and protection from abuse and neglect are alarmed after a video was released showing a guard at a juvenile prison battering a teenage detainee. The guard, Shannon Linn Abbott, 33, was arrested. Yet, after she bailed out of jail, she returned to her job the next day supervising children. Administrators with the Department of Juvenile Justice expressed dismay.

This week, the department officially requested that the privately managed youth prison’s director remove Abbott from having any access to children, the Miami Herald reported. A video is available on the Herald site.

“It is our expectation, at the very least, that this staff member will have no contact with youth in any of our programs,” wrote Laura K. Moneyham, a DJJ assistant secretary.

Florida Foster Child News Update: Mistreated Disabled Adoptees Get $9.7 Million in NYC Settlement

December 11th, 2012   No Comments   Abuse, Adoption, Court Cases

The Daily Business Review in Miami / South Florida reports on the 10 severely disabled adults, including four who are homeless, who will get help under a $9.7 million settlement with New York City for abuse they suffered as children or young adults in an adoption scam perpetrated by Judith Leekin.

Two South Florida law firms – one whose partner is Howard Talenfeld, considered among the top child abuse, personal injury, damage claims and wrongful death attorneys focused on foster child and at-risk populations – negotiated the settlement.

The lawsuit filed in New York federal court in 2009 in collaboration with Children’s Rights Inc., a New York-based nonprofit law firm.

“The partial settlement could not have come at a better time because four of these young adults are homeless and need the settlement immediately just to survive,” said Talenfeld, with Fort Lauderdale firm Colodny, Fass, Talenfeld, Karlinsky, Abate & Webb said. “We’ve come too close to losing one or two former Leekin children, and we had to act.”

The other attorney, Ted Babbitt of Babbitt, Johnson, Osbourne & Le Clainche in West Palm Beach, said $3 million each would go to two adoptees placed with foster mother Judith Leekin through a city-run adoption office. The city’s liability was higher in those cases because of its direct involvement.

Read the entire story here.

Plaintiffs Awarded $9.7 million in New York City Case of Foster Child Fraud, Physical Abuse

December 7th, 2012   No Comments   Abuse, Court Cases, Damage Claims

In a 15-year-old court case against a “colossal breakdown” of New York City’s foster care system, damages were awarded to 10 disabled people whom their plaintiff attorney said were fraudulently adopted and subsequently subjected to years of horrible child abuse and physical abuse. The $9.7 million award settlement for damage claims in the case of foster parent Judith Leekin, who moved to Florida and now at 67 is in prison for a fraud conviction, comes at “a crucial time” for the plaintiffs, said plaintiff attorney and Florida child advocacy lawyer Howard M. Talenfeld, as quoted in the New York Times. The former foster children now are mostly in their 20s. Some are homeless. All have special needs, from physical and developmental disabilities, to retardation and autism. Because of the precariousness of the plaintiffs’ situation, Talenfeld told the paper, trusts or structured settlements will be used to ensure they “will have resources to protect them in the future.”

City officials admitted no fault in the settlement. The city was the first of four defendants in the case. Cases against three private adoption agencies that had contracts with the city are pending. In all, Ms. Leekin collected $1.68 million in foster child subsidies by using aliases to adopt the children. Instead of providing them care, she restrained them with plastic ties and handcuffs, beat them with sticks and hangers – and personally lived a lavish lifestyle.

Read the entire story here.

Teen’s Death in Senior Nursing Home a ‘Travesty,’ Leads Florida Department of Children and Families to Alter Policy

In the wake of the death of Marie Freyre – the 14-year-old Tampa child with cerebral palsy forcibly removed from her home and placed in an adult nursing home, where she soon died – the Florida Department of Children and Families now is pushing to curb the practice of steering foster kids to such institutionalized care.

Administrators are demanding “high-level approval” before kids can be admitted to a nursing home or moved from one to another. The agency also will recruit foster parents with the skills to care for the state’s most fragile and at-risk children.

Christina Spudeas, executive director at Florida’s Children First, the state’s premier child advocacy organization, told the paper that DCF must do more than slow the move of kids into nursing homes. It must remove them all children from such institutions.

“It’s a travesty,” Spudeas told the Herald. “There is no doubt at all that children need proper supports in the home environment.”

The original policies not only seemingly made little sense – in Marie’s case, taking her from her mother, who’d provided care for all her life. In-home care and oversight can be far less expensive than in-facility services.


Rilya Wilson’s Death: Lessons Learned 10 Years On…

December 3rd, 2012   No Comments   Abuse, Commentary

Gainesville, Florida, child advocate attorney Gloria Fletcher’s letter to the editor regarding Rilya Wilson’s senseless death was widely published. It raises key questions regarding the child abuse and wrongful death likely suffered by the young girl. The text of the letter follows…

Ten years after the disappearance of little Rilya Wilson, what have Floridians learned about her fate and the future of others in state’s child welfare system? What do we know about the system itself – and whether reforms have made kids any more safe?

It’s hard to say what we’ve learned. As the first-degree murder trial of her Rilya’s caretaker, Geralyn Graham, gets underway in Miami this week, too many questions linger about Rilya, Graham and the Department of Children and Families.

The state will plead its case for charges of first-degree murder, kidnapping and aggravated child abuse against Graham, who in 2000 took in the 4-year-old foster child.