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Abused Florida Foster Children Win Landmark Civil Rights Decision

January 30th, 2009   No Comments   Damage Claims, Foster Care

In a precedent setting decision, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta upheld the right of three Florida foster children to sue for their sexual abuse in foster care.

In H.A.L. v. Foltz two adolescent and teenage foster kids known to be sexual predators were left unsupervised with three pre-school-aged foster children in the same home. The youngsters reportedly were repeatedly raped by the older boys. The 11th Circuit Court in Atlanta let stand a civil rights action brought by the younger boys.

“This decision represents a landmark win in the fight to protect foster children from child on child sexual abuse in foster care,” said attorney Howard Talenfeld, Shareholder with Colodny, Fass, Talenfeld, Karlinsky, & Abate PA.

Shortly after the opinion was released, the case, including the state court action for negligence, settled for $2.925 million for the three children.

The case reveals the urgent need for advocacy on the part of those who often are left helpless in foster care or the social service system. The H.A.L. case revealed several disturbing realities: The state placed the younger children in a home where a known, sexually aggressive child lived – and where both foster parents worked, leaving the younger kids at the mercy of the older child. No background check was done, and no plan was drafted or implemented to prevent the child-on-child abuse that eventually occurred.

Ultimately, “the court ruled that the state was not entitled to qualified immunity from liability under § 1983 for its alleged deliberate indifference to foster children’s clearly established substantive due process right to be reasonably safe from sexual abuse.”

The H.A.L. case outcome represents critical and significant issues. This was the first case nationally to recognize that children have a right to be protected from child-on-child sex abuse in a foster-care situation when workers know they’re placing children in harm’s way. It exposed mishandling of documentation essential to protecting children in the system.

And it revealed that the state often ends up spending millions of dollars defending itself in such cases. DCF Secretary George Sheldon admitted defense of “indefensible” claims can be expensive. He “vowed to reform the way his agency fights youngsters who sue it,” according to a Miami Herald article.

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