Contact: Paolo Annino, 850-644-9930
Carole Shauffer, 415-320-2147
Michael Dale, 954-262-6159
State Judge Grants Temporary Injunction Ordering Florida Department of Children & Family Services and Private Contractor to Immediately Stop Sending Foster Children to Live in Office Conference Rooms
(Tallahassee, FL – April 13, 2006) – Circuit Court Judge Janet Ferris today issued a temporary injunction ordering the Department of Children and Family Services (“DCF”) and a private contract foster care agency, Big Bend Community Based Care, Inc., to immediately end the practice of forcing special needs foster children to sleep night after night in a conference room in a DCF building at 3019 Jackson Bluff Road in Tallahassee.
The injunction was issued in the class-action case Susan C. v. Florida Department of Children & Family Services, filed on April 4, 2006 by Florida and national attorneys in Leon County on behalf of foster children who have suffered physical harm and psychological trauma from being sent to live and sleep in a conference room with children of all ages, and without beds, bedding, adequate food, sanitary facilities, supervision, or medical care. The lawsuit alleges that Big Bend and DCF have not developed an adequate array of foster care placements for these foster children, many of whom have multiple special needs.
“We are heartened by Judge Ferris’s order. Her decision sends the clear message that DCF and its private contractors are not above the law, they cannot ignore Florida law, and they cannot continue to subject vulnerable children to this degrading treatment,” said Carole Shauffer, Executive Director of the Youth Law Center, and one of the attorneys for the children.
“Since we filed the case a week and a half ago, we have been contacted by people across Florida telling us that this DCF practice of forcing children to live in office buildings is not limited to the Tallahassee area,” said Paolo Annino, Co-Director of the Children’s Advocacy Clinic at Florida State University College of Law. “We also have heard from relatives of children who have lived in the Jackson Bluff conference room as recently as February.”
The lawsuit charges that the State uses the Jackson Bluff Road office building by day for various DCF programs and to administer food stamps, but at night it houses children for whom Big Bend has not found a foster care placement. There are no beds or bedding, shower facilities, or approved areas for food preparation. There are no provisions for privacy in sleeping, dressing or personal grooming. “We will continue to aggressively pursue this lawsuit and seek a permanent order from the court that DCF and its private contractors may not break Florida law by making foster children live for days or weeks on end in unlicensed and inappropriate places such as an office building,” said Corene Kendrick, a staff attorney at the Youth Law Center.
Representing the children are attorneys Carole Shauffer, Corene Kendrick, and Jennifer Troia at the Youth Law Center, a nonprofit organization based in San Francisco that advocates for the rights of children in foster care and juvenile justice systems; Paolo Annino of Tallahassee; and Michael Dale of Ft. Lauderdale. For a copy of the lawsuit, contact the Youth Law Center at 415-543-3379.