Florida's Children First

Report highlights DCF woes but way forward less clear

TAMPA — Florida child welfare workers too often remove children from their families without first providing counseling that could have kept them in the home, a recent federal study found. And once in the state’s care, some children don’t get physical therapy and other specialized services they need and are entitled to, the report stated. […]

Florida child welfare system under-performing for foster kids, study finds

TAMPA — A federal agency has given the Florida Department of Children and Families 90 days to come up with a plan to improve its care of foster kids after a study found the state is underperforming in critical areas. The “Children and Family Services Review” analyzed the DCF’s handling of 80 foster care cases […]

Bob Opsahl crossed a line, changed lives forever

As journalists, we are taught to be objective. Our instincts tell us not to cross that line between our professional and personal lives. Fair and balanced, without all the conflicted connotations that now brings. Bob Opsahl failed miserably at that. He tried to keep his emotions tucked away, all in one tidy box. No feelings. […]

Carlton: Why are so many Hillsborough kids in foster care?

How kids wind up in the foster care system is pretty much the same across Florida. Investigators look into allegations of parents who are angry, absent, in trouble or just unable to do the job of parenting. They look into reports of children who are not being cared for, neglected, hurt or worse. But according […]

Before child vanished — maybe forever — DCF made fateful decision

When Angela Dufrene and her twin brother were born on April 25, 2014, their mother’s troubled history was no secret to the state. Marjorie Dufrene was under the supervision of Florida’s child welfare agency following a child-abuse arrest and six separate investigations, including an episode in which she “accidentally” hit one child in the face […]

US Department of Education: New Foster Care Transition Toolkit Offers Tips for Helping Foster Youth Succeed as Adults

The U.S. Department of Education today released a new toolkit to inspire and support current and former foster youth pursuing college and career opportunities. The Foster Care Transition Toolkit includes tips and resources intended to help foster youth access and navigate social, emotional, educational and skills barriers as they transition into adulthood. Currently, there are […]

Carlton: Foster kids deserve more than makeshift

It’s not the worst story we’ve heard about how abused or neglected children taken from their homes are treated once they’re in the system. Sadly, it’s not even close. But kids sleeping on air mattresses in offices because there are no foster beds — because there’s nowhere else for them to go — is not […]

Seven-month-old Tampa girl dies while in state care

A 7-month-old baby girl in the care of the state died this week after she slept next to a 10-year-old child on a couch. Her name was Miracle. Miracle Collins was taken into care in February when her mother was arrested in her east Tampa home after a report of domestic violence, a Tampa Police […]

Nonprofit admits more children in state care were forced to sleep in offices than previously acknowledged

Air mattresses placed on office floors served as make-do sleeping quarters for dozens of Hillsborough County foster children, a crisis that the contractor responsible for taking care of the children repeatedly failed to report to the state. The Clearwater nonprofit Eckerd Kids had 43 children sleep in offices and other unlicensed locations in the past […]

Florida does right by LGBT foster kids.

We’ve got a lot of names to take in today’s Friday Files — including a well-known quarterback, a lesser-known Pokemon and a whole slew of politicians. But first, some props to Gov. Rick Scott‘s Department of Children and Families. Earlier this year, DCF was poised to do take some ugly — and dangerous — actions […]

HIGHER EDUCATION: Actions Needed to Improve Access to Federal Financial Assistance for Homeless and Foster Youth

Homeless youth and youth in foster care are often unprepared for the transition to adulthood. Given the economic benefits of college, GAO was asked to examine the college experiences of these vulnerable youth. GAO examined (1) college enrollment and completion for foster and homeless youth, (2) the extent to which challenges these youth face affect […]

Editorial: Foster children need real beds in real homes

The revelation that 17 foster children had to sleep on air mattresses in offices highlights the ongoing struggle in Hillsborough County to protect kids who live on the brink of crisis. Eckerd Kids, the state contractor, said the temporary arrangement was necessary because it had no beds available, and it is working to ensure no […]

Out of the Shadows: Supporting LGBTQ Youth in Child Welfare Through Cross System Collaboration

This report highlights the research on the disparities that exist between LGBTQ foster youth and their non-LGBTQ peers, as well as the compounding effects these factors have in relation to other intersecting factors including race, ethnicity, culture and language. It also discusses successful policy strategies and state examples of efforts that are addressing system and practice obstacles. Out of the Shadows: […]

Foster kids aging out of system have more options, but basics like housing still a challenge

Historically, foster youth in Florida who turn 18 have celebrated their milestone birthday with a push out the door and well wishes shortly after they blow out their candles. They could opt for a monthly stipend of around $1,200 if they chose to continue their education full time, but the support of a home and […]

L. David Shear, Tampa lawyer and advocate for foster children, dies at age 79

TAMPA — Because of L. David Shear, hundreds of children in foster care have found permanent homes, says the president of Bay Area Legal Services. Shear, who died Tuesday at age 79 after an illness, was a prominent Tampa lawyer who served as president of the Florida Bar in 1979 and 1980, and was also […]

Florida YOUTH Shine on NPR

Recently, FYS Tallahassee members Taylor, Whitney, and Sandina and FYS board members Chelsea and Dan, were interviewed by Dr. Liz Holifield of 411 Teen. They spoke about how FYS advocates and how important it is for youth to advocate. Great job FYS! Listen to the show here.

Juvenile Record Expunction Update: Know Your Rights

This law (SB 386) drops the automatic expunction age from 24 to 21. It also allows some young adults to seek expunction of their juvenile records prior to age 21 – if they haven’t committed a crime within the last 5 years. Additionally, it removes the 12-month limitation on seeking expunction of juvenile diversion records. […]

Tuition Exemption: Know Your Rights

In March, 2016, the Board of the Governors of the Florida State University System realized the need to revise its Regulation that limited the use of the tuition exemption to a maximum of 120 credit hours in undergraduate courses – which was not correct according to current law. The revised Regulation will make it clear […]

Plantation girl ‘SHINE’s bright for at-risk and foster children

During her teenage years Teirvondria “Tia” McCall has dedicated much of her time to speaking up for children who often can’t. The Plantation resident became the president of the Broward chapter of Florida Youth SHINE (Striving High for Independence aNd Empowerment) at age 15. She made history as the youngest president for the organization, which […]

Bitter pill: How Florida rations care for frail kids

Six-year-old Aref Shabaneh is almost entirely blind, able to read only in Braille, walks with a cane, and is so sensitive to light his parents turn them off when he’s home. For two years, he was enrolled in a taxpayer-funded healthcare program that provided specialists to help protect what little is left of his eyesight. […]

House Panel Looks At Foster Care Options

With the rate of children coming into Florida’s foster-care system slowly increasing, state lawmakers are studying how to improve the options of where the children go to live. The House Children, Families and Seniors Subcommittee took up the question Wednesday, hearing a series of presentations about the system, which includes just under 22,000 children. The […]

Bill Would Limit Bad Group Homes, Improve Placement Options

For more than 15 years since the privatization of child welfare in Florida, the Florida Department of Children and Families has contracted with lead agencies like ChildNet and Our Kids of Miami-Dade/Monroe Inc. to operate the system of care that has all too frequently relied upon substandard, dangerous group home placements, and sometimes even placements […]

Helping teen get second chance

Saturday is visitation day for the 96 residents of the maximum-risk Cypress Creek Juvenile Offender Correction Center near Tampa. For three hours a week, some of Florida’s most notorious youth offenders get to laugh, draw pictures and play games with the people who care most for them. Usually it’s a parent or another loved one who drops […]

Hoping to avoid tragedies, state takes more kids into custody

Following intense criticism that too many children have died on the state’s watch, Florida’s child-welfare investigators have added a new layer of scrutiny that’s fueling a steep increase in the number of kids removed from their homes. In Central Florida alone — Orange, Osceola, Seminole and Lake — the total is up 17 percent in […]

EVERY KID NEEDS A FAMILY: giving children in the child welfare system the best chance for success

Every kid needs a family. This, we know. We know it when we look at our own children and think about our dreams for them. We know it in our hearts, in our bones and from our own stories. Whether “family” means a mother and father, a single parent, a beloved aunt or uncle, a […]

DCF Faulted For Oversight Of Privatized Agencies

Two reports presented to lawmakers last week criticized the Florida Department of Children and Families for poor oversight of the privatized agencies that deliver child-welfare, substance-abuse and mental-health services statewide. The reports arrived as the Legislature is considering further changes to all those services. The Florida Office of the Auditor General published its findings last […]

Bills Aimed At Helping Florida’s Disabled Foster Kids Gaining Traction

A bill that would help identify guardians and guardian advocates for children with developmental disabilities aging out of foster care passed its first committees this week. Gerry Glynn is the Chief Legal Officer for Community Based Care of North Florida. But, before that, he worked as a law professor and child advocate in 2009. In […]

Romano: Phoebe Jonchuck’s death requires big-picture solution, not just knee-jerk anger

The short life and cruel death of Phoebe Jonchuck has touched us all. It was so unnecessary, heinous and inconceivable that we’re caught somewhere between anger and grief. All we know for sure is someone has to pay, and something has to change. That reaction is natural. Certainly cathartic. But it cannot be the entirety […]

Child Thrown From Bridge in Tampa Prompts New Look at DCF’s Porous Safety Net

As the Tampa Bay area continues to reel from the death of 5-year-old Phoebe Jonchuck, whose father was charged with dropping her from a bridge last week, state leaders are looking for answers. But records of the case reveal that many answers were already available — in the form of arrests that could have raised […]

DCF secretary promises changes after child murder

The secretary of Florida’s Department of Children and Families promised swift changes Monday in how the agency responds to potential child abuse cases, but Mike Carroll said he’s not sure if the changes would have saved Phoebe Jonchuck’s life. The 5-year-old child was dropped to her death last week from the Misener Bridge in St. […]

Add taxpayer cost to the controversy about group homes for kids without families

A new study shows that placing children in group homes instead of with foster families is much more expensive — and many children’s advocates say it’s also worse for the kids. The study, released last month by the Legislature’s Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability, found that slightly more than 11 percent of […]

Phoebe Jonchuck was alive when thrown from bridge near Sunshine Skyway

Five-year-old Phoebe Jonchuck was alive early Thursday when she hurtled 62 feet from her father’s arms to the dark waters of Tampa Bay, where a search crew found her lifeless body hours later. But for years before that horrible morning, child protective investigative records show, she was living in a home full of strife. Beginning […]

Before girl’s death on Tampa Bay bridge, a family in chaos

By age 5, Phoebe Jonchuck already had a significant history with Florida child protection authorities: Her father, they were told, was habitually violent with his domestic partners, and had been accused of “smacking” his daughter in the face. Phoebe’s mother, according to reports to the agency, was a meth user who had been charged with […]

Former foster care child is honored for helping other youth

  Kenisha Anthony entered the foster care system when she was 5 years old. After she aged out at 18, she didn’t know where to go or what to do. “When I aged out, I didn’t feel like my social worker had my best interest,” she said. “I wasn’t able to get independent living or […]

Preeminent Foster Child Abuse Attorney Named Finalist as Most Effective Lawyer

Preeminent foster child abuse lawyer and staunch advocate for child welfare reform in the state capital, Howard Talenfeld, was named a finalist as one of this year’s Most Effective Lawyers by the Daily Business Review. Talenfeld, who recently opened Talenfeld Law, one of Florida’s first law firms dedicated to protecting injured, abused and neglected statewide […]

Pro bono spotlight: Stepping up for our children in foster care

“One Lawyer, One Life” is a new pro bono opportunity sponsored by The Florida Bar Public Interest Law Section, The Florida Bar and Florida’s Children First. It is a statewide pro bono project designed to recruit, train, support, match and mentor volunteer attorneys willing to assist a 17-year-old who is in out-of-home care pursuant to […]

Keys to Independence helps foster kids get drivers licenses

Tamara Vernette is 19, but she still doesn’t have her drivers license. Vernette, who spent most of her teenage years in group foster care, didn’t have anyone to teach her to drive, although she dreamed about the mobility a car would have given her. “Right now, I would pretty much be able to have any […]

Hillsborough advocates work to avert row over immigrant kids

While a controversy played out in Pasco County over the expansion of a shelter to house unaccompanied immigrant children, Hillsborough County child advocates and the judiciary quietly have been establishing a plan to thwart any future problems here. Florida’s Children First, an organization founded by child advocate attorneys, says 161 children came to Hillsborough County […]

Allegations of abuse in DCF report on murdered Bell children

Allegations of abuse in DCF report on murdered Bell children WFLA News Channel 8   Original Article at WFLA.com

Detert: Lawmakers Will Fix Extended Foster Care

The sponsor of Florida’s 2013 law extending foster care to age 21 is working on a legislative fix to resolve confusion about which state agency is responsible for severely disabled young adults in the program. Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, is meeting with children’s advocates and service providers about the issue, which involves whether the state […]

Heroes for foster kids honored in Orlando

As much as we Americans tend to worship our professional sports stars — even as they’re being arrested for domestic violence or child abuse or using illicit substances — the real heroes in our midst are not household names. They’re guys like Gerry Glynn, Randy Pawlowski and Andrew Trepte — men who have stepped up […]

Florida child-welfare agencies battling high staff turnover — 80 percent in some parts of state

One of the worst problems facing Florida’s troubled child-welfare system, advocates say, is job turnover among the case managers who oversee adoption and foster-care services — 80 percent in some parts of the state. It’s costing Florida tens of millions of dollars a year, and those are just the costs that can be quantified. “Each […]

DCF Works With Agency To Relieve Miami Foster-Care Overflow

The Florida Department of Children and Families is working with the agency that oversees child welfare in Miami to resolve issues that have included an overflow of kids in the area’s foster-care system. DCF Interim Secretary Mike Carroll on Friday said the department is collaborating with Our Kids, the lead community-based care agency for Miami-Dade […]

Former Foster Youth Finds Herself When She Found Family

Georgina Rodriguez spent most of her life growing up in foster care. She entered the system at age six and aged out at 18. In the course of 12 years, she moved eight different times. She had only lived with her older brother for six months in all her years in foster care. She is now […]

Foster Care’s Looming Crisis

Florida welfare officials and child advocates expect a surge of children to flood strained state system BY ATHENA PONUSHIS aponushis@floridaweekly.com MORE CHILDREN ARE ENTERING THE CHILD welfare system. More foster parents are needed to love these children as their own, then let them go. The Florida Department of Children and Families has shied away from […]

Rick Scott Signs House Bill 561

Today, Governor Rick Scott announced he has signed House Bill 561, which requires the appointment of an attorney to represent dependent children who have special needs, unless a pro bono attorney represents the child. Governor Rick Scott said, “I’m happy to sign this legislation today to ensure that children who have disabilities and are in […]

Gov. Scott signs two bills into law to help disabled children

Doris Freyre believes her daughter would still be alive today if an attorney had intervened. But Marie Freyre, 14, only had her mother to fight for her before she died in a Miami nursing home in 2011. Freyre said a new law signed by Gov. Rick Scott could have made the difference in her disabled […]

Good for You: Florida’s Children First to honor local child advocate and former foster child

The organization that gives a political voice to young people in Florida’s dependency system recognized local youth Daniel Pettus for using his own voice to improve life for children in foster care. Pettus, 23, the youth worker at Devereux Community Based Care of Okeechobee and the Treasure Coast who entered local foster care when he […]

Gov. Rick Scott signs new bill for DCF overhaul

The Department of Children and Families has constantly come under fire and now lawmakers and Governor Rick Scott have stepped in to do something about it. On Monday, the Governor signed a bill unanimously backed by the Florida Legislature. Hundreds of children have died while under the watch of DCF, and that’s why lawmakers are […]

Our Opinion: Tracking DCF (Tallahassee Democrat)

Florida’s Department of Children and Families has taken a beating over a Miami Herald series “Innocents Lost,” which told the story of 477 children who since 2008 suffered what the paper characterized as “predictable and preventable” deaths. DCF now has a new interim director, Mike Carroll, a longtime regional director who was named in late […]


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