State Judge Rules Against Florida Department of Children and Families and in Favor of Foster Children Who Lived in Office Conference Rooms
(Tallahassee, FL – November 9, 2006) – State Circuit Judge Janet Ferris has issued a permanent order on behalf of foster children in the Florida Panhandle area in a lawsuit against the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) that alleged that foster children were being forced to live in an unlicensed DCF office conference room. The order, known as a writ of mandamus, directs DCF and its private contract agencies to obey Florida state law and only use licensed facilities for the emergency placement of children removed from their homes.
This ruling is a victory for the plaintiffs in the class-action case Susan C. v. Florida Department of Children & Family Services, filed on April 4, 2006 by the Youth Law Center, the FSU Children’s Advocacy Center, and a Nova Southeastern Law School professor in state court on behalf of foster children who had spent days living in an office building conference room at 3019 Jackson Bluff Road, in Tallahassee.
“We are thrilled with the court’s ruling in favor of the interests of children. Prohibiting the use of unlicensed facilities represents a commitment to appropriate treatment for all children in foster care,” said Paolo Annino, Co-Director of the FSU Children’s Advocacy Clinic, and an attorney for the children.
“This writ is a critical ruling as it sends the message to the Department of Children and Families that they must obey the laws passed by the Legislature that are designed to protect abused and neglected children,” said Corene Kendrick, Staff Attorney at the Youth Law Center. “DCF had argued that it is not required to follow licensing requirements and had the sole right to place children in any facility it deems appropriate.” The writ states that “dependent children have a clear legal right, established by the Legislature of the State of Florida, to both emergency and permanent placement in licensed facilities, and that holding children in office conference rooms, or other unlicensed facilities, violates that mandate.”
“Although State documents show that children have been required to sleep in offices not only in the Tallahassee and Panama City areas but also in other parts of the State, they argued the agency has no legal responsibility to end this practice,” said Michael Dale, an attorney for the children and Professor of Law at Nova Southeastern University. “The state also made references in their filings and in court to the expense of housing children in licensed facilities instead of using the conference room.”
The writ noted that “It should go without saying that the cost of such a facility is irrelevant, especially when the Legislature has required that dependant children be held only in places that the State of Florida has approved through licensure. Otherwise, it would put the most vulnerable children – that is, those who have just been removed from their families – in the greatest jeopardy by allowing their ‘temporary placement’ just about anywhere.”
Attorneys for the children are Corene Kendrick 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; Prof. Paolo Annino, FSU College of Law, Children’s Advocacy Center in Tallahassee; and Prof. Michael Dale of Nova Southeastern University in Ft. Lauderdale. Brandie Glasscock, a third-year law student at Florida State University, also worked on the case.