Florida Accepts $10 Million Settlement

The article below appeared in the Palm Beach Post in Florida. An adoptive couple sued the state due to damage done to the youth they adopted while they were in foster care. It has taken years for the settlement to be reached; which is a shame as services these youth have been greatly delayed.

Though they now have funds which will provide for the care of the boys it is probably too late in coming in order to help the boys eventually grow up to normal, productive citizens as the damage done to them seems to be too severe.

I wish this were an isolated case but I know they happen across the country.

I hope more and more foster/adoptive families and even former foster youth will sues their states for damage done to youth while in care of the state. Dollars seems to be the only thing that might get a state’s attention and may compel them to finally reform their foster care systems so more youth are not damaged as these boys and many like them do not continue to happen. I know it’s asking a lot but I must continue to be positive that I may yet see improvement in my lifetime.

The bold print has been added by me to emphasize certain statements.

By ANTIGONE BARTON and KATHLEEN CHAPMAN

Palm Beach Post Staff Writers

Monday, October 22, 2007

For years after discovering that their three adopted sons had been raped, beaten and caged while in state custody, a Boynton Beach couple struggled to get the traumatized brothers the treatment they needed.

On Monday, more than five years after the couple sued the state for concealing the abuse and for the damage the boys suffered before coming to them, Florida officials agreed to pay the family the $10 million experts estimate will help them begin to get suitable care.

“The sad part is we’re talking about boys who are 15 and 16 years old, as opposed to 8 and 9,” their adoptive mother, Debbie, said Monday.

According to a memo the couple’s attorney said was written by a consultant for the state, recommending that the case be settled, the foster care system had been “catastrophically destructive” to the children, who were 2, 3 and 4 years old when the couple adopted them in 1998.

The Palm Beach Post is not using the couple’s last names to protect the identity of their sons.

During their earliest years, the boys had been shuttled from an abusive mother to a brutal foster family to the home of a pedophile. They were expelled from a series of schools and treatment programs while Debbie and Jorge rearranged their home and their lives to protect the boys from each other. In addition to assaulting each other, molesting classmates and attempting suicide, the boys attacked their adoptive parents.

The settlement reached Monday will allow the brothers to go to an out-of-state program for children who have suffered extreme abuse. It comes as the two oldest, who are nearly 15 and 16, are on the verge of being too old for the program.

“A wrong had been done, and we had to correct it,” said Bob Butterworth, secretary of the state Department of Children and Families. “The case had to be settled in order for the two oldest children to get the treatment they needed as soon as possible.”

Butterworth, appointed by Gov. Charlie Crist to head the long-troubled agency in January, announced when he took office that he would not spend state money fighting lawsuits when facts indicated the agency had erred.

“It is refreshing that Gov. Crist and Secretary Butterworth took a look at the case and realized the gravity and the care they needed,” the boys’ adoptive father said.

“During the past administration, we were completely ignored despite what they knew, which is a lot,” Debbie said.

It was only after the adoption that the parents learned the boys’ previous foster father was a pedophile who had raped an 11-year-old girl. He was sentenced to life in prison in 2000. The couple learned that the middle child had clung to a state-paid therapist’s leg, sobbing as he begged not to be returned to a household where he and his brothers were molested nightly.

By the time they learned this, Debbie said, she and her husband were “running a group home without a staff” as the boys terrorized their household. Psychologists have concluded that the boys can no longer love or trust anyone, they said.

The couple had one adopted son when they prepared to adopt more from state foster care. Willing to take a child with disabilities or behavioral problems, they asked only that they not be given a child at risk for molesting other children, because they did not want to put their young son at risk.

“It changed his whole childhood,” Debbie said.

The youngest of the brothers, now 13, remains at home. The middle child is in a psychiatric hospital, and the oldest is in a group home after assaulting Debbie.

“They were just getting too big and too strong to stay here,” Debbie said, though she and her husband have refused to consider reversing the adoption.

The legislature still must approve $9.5 million of the settlement, but the boys’ treatment will begin immediately thanks to help from the state’s Agency for Health Care Administration, Butterworth said. The family will receive $500,000 now – the maximum that can be settled without legislative approval.

“This settlement is fair, at best,” the couple’s attorney, Lance Block, said Monday. “Had this case been a private entity, it would have settled for many millions more. On the other hand, I have been trying cases against the state of Florida for 23 years, and I never thought I would see the day that the Department of Children and Families would try to get cases settled that should be settled.”

The outlook for the boys is worse now than if they had been able to get the care they needed years ago, the couple said. But they remain hopeful.

“We are depending on the state of Florida to follow through on what they have said they will do,” Jorge said.

The couple, who moved to the Gainesville area last year, remain staunch advocates for adoption.

“Children need homes,” Debbie said. “But parents need to know that the state of Florida is not going to hide things.”

http://www.palmbeachpost.com/localnews/content/local_news/epaper/2007/10/22/1022foster.html
A bittersweet victory…

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