Florida's Children First

State investigation cites multiple failures in death of Largo child

It was sweltering in the bedroom of the Largo mobile home the day a child welfare case manager visited in July. Yet she left 8-month-old William Hendrickson IV there with no air-conditioning and in the care of an erratic father who had been refusing to take his medication, a newly released state investigation found. There […]

Hillsborough loses big as state fails to divide child welfare money by need

If Florida’s overburdened child welfare system has an epicenter, it’s Hillsborough County. An average of 3,600 children were in foster care in the county during 2016, the most in Florida. Hillsborough also has among the highest number of child abuse investigations and removal rates. Yet the county’s lead child welfare agency is short-changed almost $6 […]

Florida’s first responders to child abuse overwhelmed, inexperienced

The first people the state dispatches to the homes of potentially abused and neglected children in Palm Beach County are overworked and in some cases cutting corners, data show. A dozen former and current Florida Department of Children and Families child-protective investigators in Palm Beach County tell The Post and its news partner WPTV NewsChannel 5 that an inundation […]

Foster Care as Punishment: The New Reality of ‘Jane Crow’

Maisha Joefield thought she was getting by pretty well as a young single mother in Brooklyn, splurging on her daughter, Deja, even though money was tight. When Deja was a baby, she bought her Luvs instead of generic diapers when she could. When her daughter got a little older, Ms. Joefield outfitted the bedroom in […]

Eckerd Kids: Teens in group foster homes must be allowed to keep phones

For many teens still reeling from being taken into foster care, a cellphone is a lifeline, child advocates say. It’s their one connection to the world they left behind, a link to friends, romantic interests and reassuring emojis. Yet many group foster homes confiscate or heavily restrict access to cellphones. In some cases, it is […]

Three kids, seven foster children and a whole lot of love

To the kids who stay with her, Kathryn Melendez is “Mom” or “Miss Kathryn.” Some of her teenage girls even call her “Bae,” slang shorthand for “before anyone else.” The endearment is hard won. Since she began fostering in Florida in 2004, more than 200 children have arrived on Melendez’s doorstep, most of them scared, […]

Child abuse tips silenced for months by DCF computer glitch

Hundreds of reports about potential child abuse may have been overlooked for months because of a Florida Department of Children and Families computer glitch. About 1,500 tips to the Florida Abuse Hotline ­— the state’s front line for child protection — were not sent electronically to law enforcement agencies between February and April because of […]

Eckerd Kids shuts down troubled out-of-hours teen center

The agency that runs child welfare in Hillsborough County is closing a troubled out-of-hours teen center. Eckerd Kids announced Wednesday that it will terminate its contract with subcontractor Camelot Community Care to run the Ybor Heights center, which is used to temporarily house and supervise children entering the foster care system until they are placed […]

While kids slept in offices, foster beds went empty

The plight of foster children forced to sleep on air mattresses in offices last summer led to outrage and the state ordering additional oversight of Eckerd Kids, the agency that runs child welfare in Hillsborough County. But even as social workers were preparing the make-do accommodation, records show that between 10 and 21 foster beds […]

Goal of state’s new child welfare plan: more help for investigators and more foster parents

The critical decision to remove a child from a home because of abuse or neglect is based on the work of child welfare investigators. But about 80 percent of Florida’s investigators have less than two years’ experience. And more than half are juggling heavy caseloads. Fixing those problems is one focus of a new attempt […]

New bill aims to create alternative to foster care for struggling families but lack of oversight worries some

One parent losing a job, being admitted to a hospital or struggling with addiction can be difficult for any family. For a single parent, however, it can also mean losing children to the foster care system. Supporters of a proposed law hope to change that. The Temporary Care of a Child Act aims to create […]

Foster mom arrested in death of boy headed for adoption

A foster mother has been arrested in the death of a 17-month-old boy who suffered apparent head injuries just weeks before he was likely to be adopted. Latamara Stackhouse Flythe was arrested on a charge of first-degree murder and aggravated child abuse in the death of Aedyn Agminalis, who died Dec. 11 after he was […]

Foster mom of 4-year-old dropped off at wrong house says she alerted child welfare

Patricia Hunter has opened her home to children for more than 20 years. As a foster mom, she’s dealt with bed wetters and fussy eaters, kids who need endless hugs and others who don’t want to be held. Until last week, she hadn’t experienced having one of her children delivered to the wrong home. Hunter, […]

Report highlights DCF woes but way forward less clear

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 Department […]

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 […]

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