Firm Earns Consent Decree Leading to Reforms, Increased Budget in Broward County Foster Care System
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In 1998, Howard Talenfeld instituted a class action with the Youth Law Center against the Department of Children and Family Services (“DCF”), Ward v. Kearney, which led to a consent decree, significant institutional reforms and a near-tripling of the budget for the Broward County, Florida, foster care system.
The county’s foster children were being subjected to egregious institutional abuses, which included physical, sexual, and emotional abuse and neglect, as a result of significant systemic flaws in Florida’s child welfare system. Each of the class plaintiffs had experienced abuses while in foster care that evidenced these failures.
One of the main aspects of the class action focused on the fact that foster children in Broward County were subjected to an epidemic of institutionalized sexual abuse with unprecedented numbers of children being sexually abused while in care. Contrary to state laws and regulations, which had been in existence since as early as 1992, foster children who had histories of sexually abusing other children were knowingly placed in overcrowded foster homes with no safety plans, no consideration for the safety and well-being of the children already in the home, and no consideration for the safety and well-being of sexually aggressive children.
In fact, one of the named class plaintiffs, “Valerie Ward,” had been repeatedly sexually abused in various foster homes and group home settings. She continues to struggle with the psychological and emotional damage and to recover from the damage that was done to her while in foster care.
As a result of the class action, the state’s budget for the county’s child welfare system was more than doubled. Additionally, DCF enacted various operating procedures that were designed to prevent, inter alia, incidents of child on child sexual abuse from occurring between foster children while in DCF’s custody.