H.G. v. Carroll: Bridging the Gap in Florida’s Child Welfare System

By: Lauren Miller

Serious systemic problems in Florida’s child welfare system plague the Southern Region, leaving children in foster care at significant risk of harm.

The University of Miami Children & Youth Law Clinic, along with other attorneys for children in Miami-Dade and Monroe Counties, joined with national child welfare organization Children’s Rights and international law firm Baker McKenzie to bring a federal class action against the Department of Children and Families (“DCF”) on behalf of the over 3,500 children in DCF custody in the Southern Region of Florida, seeking system-wide declaratory and injunctive relief.[1]The Complaint alleges that Florida’s foster care system fails to maintain a remotely adequate number and variety of appropriate placements for children and fails to provide them with necessary mental health treatment, causing physical, psychological, and emotional harm.[2]Despite DCF’s knowledge of these deficiencies and the resulting harms, DCF has repeatedly failed to meet its affirmative duty to protect children in state custody from harm and risk of harm in violation of their substantive due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment.[3]

Among the Named Plaintiffs are siblings H.G. and M.G., who had been in DCF custody for four months at the time the lawsuit was filed.[4]At that time, H.G. was two-years-old and M.G. was eight-months-old.[5]In October 2017, DCF removed H.G., M.G., and their two older siblings from their mother’s care.[6]DCF immediately separated the siblings into two placements.[7]About one month later, DCF moved H.G. and M.G. to a group home facility,where one live-in staff member and shift workers cared for up to twelve children at a time.[8]For three months, H.G. and M.G. remained in the group home since DCF did not have an appropriate family-like foster home for them.[9]While in DCF custody, DCF failed to protect H.G. and M.G. from harm and risk of harm by placing them in group care during their formative developmental years.[10]

Another Named Plaintiff is L.T., a sixteen-year-old girl, who entered DCF custody due in part to concerns that she had been a victim of sex trafficking.[11]DCF eventually placed L.T. in a Citrus Helping Adolescents Negatively impacted by Commercial Exploitation (“CHANCE”) Therapeutic Foster Home, where she resided for approximately a year and a half.[12]L.T. later entered a substance abuse program for seven months.[13]During that time, L.T. disclosed that the foster father in the CHANCE foster home sexually assaulted her.[14]Upon discharge from the substance abuse program, despite earlier assessments indicating that L.T. needed a Specialized Therapeutic Foster Home (STFH) or Specialized Therapeutic Group Home (STGH), DCF had no appropriate placements for her.[15]Instead, DCF placed L.T. in a non-therapeutic foster home and then moved her “night to night.”[16]Without adequate placement and services, L.T. began using drugs again and also remained vulnerable to sexual predators.[17]During the four years L.T. spent in DCF custody, DCF subjected her to major placement instability, where she was moved at least 25 times, and left her in unsafe placements, where she was sexually assaulted.[18]

While not a Named Plaintiff, the Complaint also references the story of N.V., a fourteen-year-old girl, who committed suicide in her foster home.[19]Three months prior, an assessment determined that N.V. needed to be placed in a STFH, yet DCF never provided her with one.[20]Notably, following N.V.’s death, there were still 25 children awaiting placement in a STFC.[21]Further, despite a history of maltreatment and sexual abuse, a review team ultimately concluded that N.V. received inconsistent and sporadic mental health treatment while in care.[22]The stories of the Named Plaintiffs and even the Unnamed Plaintiffs demonstrate the imminent need for DCF to remedy the ongoing harms and protect children in foster care from risk of future harm.

Following the filing of the instant lawsuit, DCF filed a proposed settlement agreement, which the  United States District Court for the Northern District of Florida recently approved.[23]As part of the agreement, DCF will identify gaps in the continuum of placements and services available to meet the needs of Class Members and publish a report on how to fill those gaps.[24]The settlement agreement further provides that (1) the rate of moves from a placement setting shall not exceed 4.12 moves per 1,000 days in care; (2) 90% of cases reviewed of Class Members shall be in a placement setting that is stable; and (3) 90% of cases reviewed of Class Members shall have their mental and behavioral health needs addressed.[25]In addition, DCF will no longer place Class Members in hotels, motels, Contracted Service Providers, or state agency offices unless there are extraordinary circumstances present.[26]DCF must substantially comply with these outcomes by December 31, 2021.[27]

While DCF still has a long way to go, DCF’s acknowledgement of the gaps in the continuum of placements and services as well as its achievement of the stated outcomes will have important implications for children in foster care in the Southern Region.

 

[1]Complaint, H.G. v. Carroll, No. 4:18-cv-00100-WS-CAS (N.D. Fla. Feb. 20, 2018); seeJustice for Children: Federal Lawsuit Settlement in South Florida Promises Major Reforms for Children in Foster Care, Univ. of Miami Sch. of Law(Mar. 26, 2019), https://www.law.miami.edu/news/2019/march/justice-children-federal-lawsuit-settlement-south-florida-promises-major-reforms; see alsoBaker McKenzie Secures Major Reforms for Children in Florida Foster Care in the US, Baker McKenzie(May 17, 2019), https://www.bakermckenzie.com/en/newsroom/2019/05/florida-foster-care/;Class Actions FL – H.G. v. Carroll, Children’s Rights, https://www.childrensrights.org/class_action/h-g-v-carroll/#(last visited Oct. 28, 2019); Protecting Foster Children – Judge Refuses to Dismiss Children & Youth Clinic’s Federal Class Action, Univ. of Miami Sch. of Law(May 9, 2018), https://www.law.miami.edu/news/2018/may/protecting-foster-children-judge-refuses-dismiss-children-youth-clinic%E2%80%99s-federal-class.

[2]Complaint,supranote 1, at 3, 41, 53.

[3]Complaint, supranote 1, at 4, 58-59.

[4]Complaint, supranote 1, at 5.

[5]Complaint, supranote 1, at 5.

[6]Complaint, supranote 1, at 5.

[7]Complaint, supranote 1, at 5.

[8]Complaint, supranote 1, at 5-6.

[9]Complaint, supranote 1, at 5-6.

[10]Complaint, supranote 1, at 6-7.

[11]Complaint, supranote 1, at 9.

[12]Complaint, supranote 1, at 10.

[13]Complaint, supranote 1, at 10.

[14]Complaint, supranote 1, at 10-11.

[15]Complaint, supranote 1, at 11.

[16]Complaint, supranote 1, at 11.

[17]Complaint, supranote 1, at 12, 55.

[18]Complaint, supranote 1, at 16, 42.

[19]Complaint, supranote 1, at 3, 52-53.

[20]Complaint, supranote 1, at 3, 52.

[21]Complaint, supranote 1, at 53.

[22]Complaint, supranote 1, at 3, 55.

[23]SeeSettlement Agreement, H.G v. Carroll, No. 4:18-cv-00100-RH-CAS (N.D. Fla. Mar. 11, 2019); see also

Order Approving the Settlement, H.G. v. Carroll, No. 4:18-cv-00100-RH-CAS (N.D. Fla. Aug. 5, 2019).

[24]Settlement Agreement, supranote 24, at 5-6.

[25]Settlement Agreement, supranote 24, at 7-8.

[26]Settlement Agreement, supranote 24, at 8.

[27]Settlement Agreement, supranote 24, at 7-8.

 

 

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