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Lead Agencies, DCF Seek to Cap Personal Injury Damage Suits By Foster Children

MIAMI (AP) — A few months after a 10-year-old child was placed with eight other children in a Tampa foster home overseen by a single mom, a 13-year-old boy sneaked into his room and raped him in 2005.

But Hillsborough Kids Inc., a state contractor that placed the boy, says it’s not liable because it subcontracted with another agency which directly cared for the boy. They contend the state Department of Children and Families is ultimately responsible for overseeing its providers, according to court documents.

The lawsuit filed on behalf of the boy has dragged on for three years and is the crux of an ongoing argument between DCF and the contractors it hires to place and monitor foster children: Who should be financially responsible when one of the children is harmed?

That question has major repercussions for both taxpayers and the children. If it’s the state, the contractors would be off the hook and a victimized foster child would be limited by law to receiving $200,000 in damages from the state unless the Legislature approves a higher amount. If it’s the contractors, an injured child could receive whatever damages a court awards up to a $3 million per incident and it would be paid by the contractor and its insurance company.

Child advocates say DCF and its contractors are trying to dodge responsibility and are wasting taxpayer money as discussions drag on. In the end, they say, it leaves abused children with little legal or financial recourse. The state spent more than $740 million this year on foster care, employing 21 contractors to oversee between 9,000 and 10,000 foster children.

“It’s sad and a complete waste of resources when we see each blame the other or duck behind technical defenses while the innocent foster child is suffering and waiting to get help,” said Howard Talenfeld, a child advocate and Broward County attorney.

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