What is FCA?

Child Advocacy Blog


Florida Child Advocate Attorneys’ $2.2 million Settlement vs ChildNet, DCF Profiled in Local Media

A $2.2 million settlement negotiated by attorneys for two young girls who were repeatedly sexually abused by their mother, even after experts warned and judges admonished community based care provider ChildNet Inc., and the Florida Department of Children and Families, recently was profiled in South Florida publication, Daily Business Review.

As part of the settlement, ChildNet will pay its maximum policy limit of $2 million; DCF, which contracted ChildNet for services, will pay its statutory cap of $200,000. Read the story here.

According to news releases, ChildNet and DCF refuse to accept any responsibility for their repeated and gross negligence, regardless of the settlement, said Joel Fass, a partner with Colodny Fass Talenfeld Karlinsky Abate & Webb P.A., who along with Howard Talenfeld and Stacie Schmerling were the plaintiffs’ counsel.

“They ignored clear warnings, red flags, psychological reports, verified abuse reports and judicial warnings and still pursued a policy of reunification with a mother who they were repeatedly and consistently warned was sexually abusing the girls,” Fass said. “To this day, even though they paid $2 million, ChildNet still has never taken responsibility for the girls’ sexual abuse. Instead, despite judicial findings of sexual abuse, ChildNet and DCF denied the sexual abuse took place and defended this action with a scorched earth defense, taking more than 60 depositions and spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in expert and attorneys fees. This institutional stubbornness and refusal to heed the warnings of experts and judges raises very serious concerns as to whether they’re fit to assess and make decisions in individual cases concerning the lives of children in their care.”

Plaintiffs were identified only as minor children I.N. and G.N. The plaintiffs claimed the defendants acted in a culpably negligent manner and/or with willful and wanton disregard for the minor plaintiffs’ safety and well-being that ultimately caused the plaintiffs to be repeatedly sexually abused by their mother. Even after being removed from her, they were returned for unsupervised visits against the recommendations of expert psychologists. Now, experts say, the children will need long-term psychological counseling.

ChildNet is the same organization that paid an undisclosed settlement when a foster child in its care, Gabriel Myers, 7, committed suicide after being given three strong psychotropic drugs. The episode opened a wide-ranging investigation into the use of the so-called “chemical restraints.”

In the Circuit Court action that was just settled, it was alleged that in September 2003, the two girls were removed from their natural parents at the ages of 4 and 5, by order of the family court. Within two months, the Florida Abuse Hotline received a report alleging that one child was displaying inappropriate sexual behavior for a child her age. A month later, both were placed under DCF supervision and any parental visitation was ordered to be supervised.

In January 2004, ChildNet was named the lead community-based care provider for their case. A Family Court judge ordered therapy with a licensed psychologist experienced in sexual abuse cases. In a succession of episodes in the coming months and years, the Florida Abuse Hotline received numerous report alleging children’s complaints of rectal pain, and that they had engaged in unusual sexual behavior, including child-on-child sexual acts. Teachers also reported concerns.

Throughout the dependency case, child psychologists repeatedly and “strongly recommended” supervised visitation. Still, ChildNet in November 2004 and March 2005 filed motions change visitations to unsupervised visitations and ultimately to reunify I.N. and G.N with their mother. In July 2005, the Florida Abuse Hotline received a report alleging the children were sexually abused by their mother. This time, the findings were verified.

On January 23, 2006, the court placed the girls in the long-term care of their grand-parents. In October 2008, the father surrendered his parental rights. By January 2009, the mother did the same. On July 17, 2009, I.N. and G.N. were adopted by the grandparents – who spent more than $100,000 of dollars in dependency court legal fees trying to protect their granddaughters from the sexual abuse that ChildNet refused to acknowledge.

At a hearing to terminate protective supervision, over the objections of the defendants, the judge admonished DCF’s and ChildNet’s attempts to reunify the mother – against expert advice. “To say that’s ignoring red flags…is an understatement; it’s an agenda,” said Judge John. B Bowman.

“What’s sad is that these girls had grandparents with means who pursued this case in dependency court. What about those children who have no one to advocate for them?” asked Howard M. Talenfeld, Fass’s law partner and co-counsel on the case. “Yet, even with clear warnings, the signs were clearly ignored by ChildNet and the agency has apologized to no one. The sin is that it was only on the courthouse steps that they paid full policy limits – and still deny any guilt. This leaves us to wonder whether any lesson was learned at all. At least the girls can get on with their lives with the financial security to ensure they receive the counseling they most surely will need.”

Leave a Reply