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Archive for October, 2013

Palm Beach Post Editorial: Wellington Family’s Horror Latest Reason to Reform System for Paying Victims of Government Negligence

October 30th, 2013   No Comments   Abuse, Court Cases, Damage Claims

In this Palm Beach Post editorial, staff editorial writer Rhoda Swan argues that it’s long-past time that Florida legislators change their stance and process regarding claims bills necessary to pay multi-million dollar damage awards against state agencies like the Florida Department of Children and Families. As advocates have long said, reform the system, and pay the damage awards.

As Swan wrote, “A Wellington family awarded $5 million for the sexual abuse perpetrated on their son by a foster child must get in line with at least 25 other victims of government negligence in Florida.

“The judgment against the Department of Children and Families will become another ‘claims bill,’ which the Legislature must approve before the family is paid. Legislators passed no claims bill last session, because Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, wants to reform the system first.

“…Attorney Howard Talenfeld will lobby legislators to pay [the family]. Sen. Gaetz dislikes the role lobbyists play, but the system is the problem. Legislators should remove the politics by increasing what governments can pay without legislative approval. Delayed reform means delayed justice.”

Read the entire column here.

Will $5 Million Verdict in Foster Child-On-Child Sexual Abuse Case Help Florida DCF, Community-Based Providers Learn Their Lesson?

October 28th, 2013   No Comments   Abuse, Court Cases, Damage Claims

When a six-member jury decided that the sexual assault of one child by a foster child who was known to be a juvenile sex offender by the Florida Department of Children and Families and its community-based care providers could have been avoided and should have consequences, they were reiterating what child advocates have said all along. Their $5 million verdict against Florida DCF only drove home the point even more forcefully.

Was history repeating itself in the Palm Beach County courtroom, where testimony of the sexual abuse and humiliation suffered by the victim brought tears to the plaintiff’s attorney and jurors alike?

DCF and community-based care providers failed to warn the foster family of the 10-year-old foster child’s own history of violent sexual abuse. Then, after the abuse occurred, they tried to deflect blame and say the foster parents should have known. Child advocate attorney Howard Talenfeld was co-counsel on the case. Read the newspaper account here.


Emotional Tale of Child-on-Child Sexual Abuse Blames Florida Department of Children and Families, Community Based Care Provider

October 17th, 2013   No Comments   Abuse, Court Cases, Damage Claims

Attorneys for a man who as a child suffered sexual abuse by a foster child taken into his family home had a Palm Beach County courtroom in tears – and foster child advocates again wondering when the Florida Department of Children and Families and its community-based care providers ever would learn the lessons of the past.

The family was not told by DCF of the sexual abuse the foster child had suffered from less than two years of age – abuse that transformed him into a sexual predator. Instead, he was placed with the family.

As jurors heard of childhood games gone horribly wrong, “… [a]ttorneys representing DCF and Camelot [community care] have countered that the couple knew enough about [the foster child’s] background to understand the potential risk he posed to [their son].”

The foster child was known to be a juvenile sex offender. Shame on DCF for not warning another family of the full and complete history of a foster child.  Several years ago, DCF paid $10 million in damages under very similar circumstances.

When will DCF learn the lessons of the past?

Children’s Rights Attorney: More Work Needed at Florida Department of Children and Families

As a child advocate and children’s rights lawyer and foster care abuse attorney specializing in children who have suffered physical abuse, sexual abuse and even wrongful death, Howard Talenfeld works with a number of other leading attorneys throughout Florida in representing these individuals harmed in these cases. One such children’s rights attorney is Gloria Fletcher, who recently was published in newspapers in Tallahassee, Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale regarding proposed changes at the Florida Department of Children and Families. Changes are good, yet more are needed, notes Fletcher, who has sued on behalf of children physically abused and sexually abused while under the watch and care of DCF and its agencies. Her letter is below…

“I applaud interim DCF Secretary Esther Jacobo for her efforts to address the issues with our state’s child protection services. One method has been the use of outside experts to review the safety model, tools, and practice manual intended to improve the performance of child protective investigators and community based care agencies.

“The results of this initiative – the Casey Family Programs report – displays the true need for DCF to fix its child protective investigation “transformation” before real change can be made. In fact, the report itself says “The Safety Model’s Guidelines are incongruent with child protection practices designed for babies and toddlers, the age group at greatest risk for serious inflicted injuries and maltreatment fatalities.” Further evidence that more work is needed before DCF’s new model will achieve its intended purpose of protecting our kids.


With Advocates’ Guidance, Florida Department of Children and Families Embraces Needed Reforms

October 4th, 2013   No Comments   Advocacy, Commentary

As it promises change and improvement in the interest of the safety of foster children and at-risk kids statewide, the Florida Department of Children and Families has asked organizations to lend guidance of its child safety model. The work of at least one policy group – Casey Family Programs – has gained the attention of DCF Interim Secretary Esther Jacobo and other child advocates and attorneys.

Casey’s report found DCF’s safety measure lacking. This comes in the wake of the deaths of 20 children whose situations were known to DCF and its community-based care providers. Casey found that DCF must broaden its focus from children in danger to include children at-risk of becoming so.

Noted Casey’s Alan Puckett and Dee Wilson: “The safety model…does not clearly convey the cumulative emotional and developmental harm which children may suffer from chronic neglect or from the combination of chronic neglect with physical abuse or sexual abuse. In many chronically referring families, children may be neither in present or impending danger nor truly safe given the cumulative developmental and emotional impact, and occasional significant harm, which may result from low level chronic maltreatment.”


‘High-Risk’ Placement Leaves Child Sexually Abused, Florida DCF On Trial

October 2nd, 2013   No Comments   Abuse, Court Cases, Damage Claims

The Florida Department of Children and Families and a community-based care provider are at the center of a civil lawsuit seeking damages filed in Palm Beach County by a foster family whose foster child was a known sexual abuser who abused their natural son.

The foster child suffered a past that left him “so horribly damaged” – a past the two social service agencies should have warned them of, according to their complaint and news reports.

The family is seeking unspecified damages against Florida DCF and Camelot Community Care, a nonprofit child welfare group hired by DCF to oversee the foster child’s case. Instead, the agencies cast blame upon the foster family.

To attorneys, though, the case is clear. DCF made a high-risk placement without informing the plaintiffs that the foster child was sexually aggressive. DCF permitted the foster child to share a bedroom with an 8-year old boy and violated its own procedures designed to protect against sexual abuse,” Howard Talenfeld, co-counsel for the family, said later. “Camelot Community Care, DCF’s expert hired to treat this child, assess risk and provide therapy, violated the same procedures and failed to take the necessary actions that would have protected both children.”

The trial is expected to last four weeks.