Susan C. v. Florida Department of Children and Family Services Settlement wtih Big Bend

Published On: August 1, 2006


Susan C. v. Florida Department of Children and Family Services, filed in state court in April 2005, was a class action lawsuit that charged the Department of Children and Family Services (‘DCF’) and a private contract foster care agency, Big Bend Community Based Care, Inc., with failing to find appropriate and licensed foster placements for abused and neglected children. Specifically, DCF and Big Bend were accused of forcing foster children to sleep night after night in a conference room in a DCF building at 3019 Jackson Bluff Road in Tallahassee.

Florida and YLC attorneys filed the case on behalf of foster children who 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 private contractor, Big Bend Community Based Care, entered into a settlement with plaintiffs on August 7, 2006, that states, among other things, that they will set a policy prohibiting overnight stays in offices, conference rooms, or other unlicensed placements in the DCF District over which it manages foster care services for the state.

In November 2006, Leon County Circuit Judge Janet E. Ferris issued a writ of mandamus ordering DCF and its private contract agencies to obey Florida state law and to only use licensed facilities for the placement of children. She also denied in full the state’s motion for summary judgment. The judge’s decision said “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 chidlren in office conference rooms, or other unlicensed facilities, violates that mandate.”

Judge Ferris also rejected the state’s position taken in court filings and in oral arguments that following the law and using only licensed facilities would be more expensive than using the conference room. She wrote, “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.”

In December 2007, the case ended as DCF agreed to abide by the court’s order.

Counsel for the plaintiffs are Carole Shauffer and Corene Kendrick at the Youth Law Center, Paolo Annino of Tallahassee, and Michael Dale of Ft. Lauderdale.

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