Fighting exclusively for children who have been physically, sexually and emotionally abused or injured, or have suffered wrongful death in all settings, including family residences, foster homes, group homes, emergency shelters, and residential treatment centers in the care of the state and by other providers is our singular mission at Justice for Kids.
A division of law firm Kelley Kronenberg, Justice for Kids is Florida’s premier law practice exclusively dedicated to fighting for and protecting the rights of abused, disabled and injured children in personal injury and damages cases. Children are our future, yet tens of thousands are left at risk every day, some of them at the hands of their parents and the private agencies and government agencies charged with protecting them. Our child advocacy attorneys are deeply committed to fighting for the rights of children in Florida and are taking this mission across the United States – doing whatever it takes to ensure that they receive the protection they are entitled to under the law. We have been involved in hundreds of cases involving thousands of foster children, mentally handicapped children and others who have been the victims of abuse.
Our lawyers have earned their reputations nationally by achieving precedent-setting verdicts and rulings, delivering multimillion-dollar settlements, and providing pro bono legal counsel that helps our clients on their paths to recovery.
Our work has also resulted in systemic reform that has helped at-risk children avoid injury, harm and damages in foster care and other child welfare settings.
The firm’s team of experienced children’s rights attorneys is led by founding partner and Business Unit Leader Howard Talenfeld. An advocate nationally recognized for almost three decades of work with foster care and disabilities class action and damages claims in Florida, New York, and California, Howard has built a team of the most dedicated child advocates.
Justice for Kids Business Unit Leader Stacie J. Schmerling is a veteran child abuse case worker and investigator who has a decade of experience working in the child welfare systems in New Jersey and Florida, and has worked alongside Howard since 2008.
Fellow Business Unit Leader Justin D. Grosz has been practicing for over 25 years and has focused his practice on injured, abused and neglected children as well as catastrophic injury, wrongful death, child safety, and civil rights claims.
Where other firms seek to pursue foster care damage claims simply as personal injury negligence cases, Justice for Kids brings a unique approach to the representation of children in all settings.
Our creativity in applying the law on behalf of vulnerable children who have been physically abused, sexually abused, or neglected under the care of the state and its contracted private providers, while in foster care and other child welfare settings sets Justice for Kids apart from other law firms. We pursue cases of negligence and wrongful death and often pursue cases as violations of children’s civil rights.
This has secured millions of dollars in verdicts and settlements to aid abused, disabled and injured children. Our lawsuits, settlements and case rulings have not only delivered damage awards to children injured or harmed under the state’s care, but the team’s novel approaches have also helped change case law to assist others in the future. As true advocates for our young clients, we help protect their damages recovery by establishing life care plans, which are protected by trusts and structured settlements intended to serve the needs of children often facing a lifetime of specialized care.
A 1998 class action lawsuit, Ward v. Kearney, brought by Howard with the Youth Law Center against the Florida Department of Children and Family Services (“DCF”), resulted in a consent decree that established institutional reforms in the Broward County, Florida foster care system and almost tripled the state’s budget for Broward County’s child welfare system.
Nationally, Howard was one of the first attorneys to utilize the federal civil rights damage statute (42 USC § 1983) to recover damages for injured foster children. In his 2001 case Roe v. Florida Department of Children & Family Services, 176 F. Supp. 2d 1310 (S.D. Fla. 2001), he recovered a $5 million damage award on behalf of six foster children, an amount far in excess of Florida’s then sovereign immunity limit of $200,000. This case was featured on ABC’s 20/20 in May of 2002 and again in December 2006.
In 2007, Howard and his team secured a more than $14 million settlement, the largest recovery of its kind ever in Florida, for 20 foster children who were abused in a foster home.
Using this novel approach of applying civil rights law, the Justice for Kids team have earned many significant wins. Howard prevailed against New York City and the Archdiocese of Brooklyn, which together paid more than $27 million in the case of Judith Leekin. Using four phony aliases, Judith Leekin was able to adopt 11 special needs children and collect $1.7 million in adoption subsidy – all while she imprisoned, abused and starved the children in what has been described as a “house of horrors.”
The case of H.A.L. v. Foltz, 551 F.3d 1227 (11th Cir. 2008), resulted in the landmark Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals decision recognizing that exposing foster children to child-on-child sexual abuse in foster care is a viable claim under the Federal Civil Rights Act 42 USC § 1983. This case paved the way to protect many other children in Florida and throughout the country who are sexually abused in foster care.
Howard has also employed similar creativity to protect the developmentally disabled. In Baumstein v. Sunrise Communities, 738 So. 2d 420 (Fla. 3d DCA 1999), he led a team of attorneys who successfully argued in the Third District Court of Appeal to establish a private cause of action for damages based upon the violation of Florida’s Bill of Rights for the developmentally disabled under § 393.13, Florida Statutes. This decision was the first to recognize this approach and led to a significant settlement in the case.
Additionally, Howard oversaw the drafting and passage of the Florida Bill of Rights for Dependent Children (§ 39.4085, Fla. Stat.) and Florida’s first pilot program for attorneys-ad-litem for Dependent Children (§ 39.4086 Fla. Stat.). He was also instrumental in the creation of Florida’s Children First, the state’s pioneering child advocacy organization dedicated to protecting the legal rights of at-risk children, especially those in foster care.
Howard has been equally as effective in the state and national capital. He helped write the law that required mandatory reporting of child-on-child sexual abuse and rape in community facilities. He also advocated for and helped encourage passage of and the governor’s signature on House Bill 561 (§ 39.01305/ Appointment of an Attorney for a Dependent Child with Certain Special Needs). The law ensures children who are victims of sexual abuse or sexual trafficking, are on psychotropic medications, or have been committed to a residential treatment facility, have attorneys representing them in all legal or administrative proceedings. Previously, attorneys were not required, leaving the best interests of such children unassured. He has testified to Congress and his 501(C)(3), Florida’s Children First has impacted our nation’s child welfare system.
In June 2020, Howard was appointed by the Florida Bar President to the Florida Bar Legal Needs of Children Committee for the second time, undertaking an ambitious agenda to address trauma to children caused in legal proceedings of all types and working to improve the quality of representation of children by counsel and to address the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Justice for Kids’ unique approach to fighting for the rights of children abused and neglected in the state’s child welfare system stems from Howard’s prior work for the agencies he now seeks to hold accountable. In the 1980s and 1990s, Howard served as outside counsel to the State of Florida Department of Health & Rehabilitative Services where he helped defend the agency against damage claims, lawsuits and class actions involving Florida’s array of services for children and adults.
Howard later decided to use his experience with his team to aggressively protect the rights of at-risk children. Today, the attorneys at Justice for Kids share a singular mission of pursuing actions against those who harm foster children, the developmentally disabled, and all of the state’s most vulnerable residents.