A number of claims bills which found Florida’s child welfare agency at fault are now heading to the House floor. Among them is a high profile bill involving twins that further compensates the surviving victim, in an abuse case that took his twin sister’s life.
For the past few years, Rep. Jose Felix Diaz (R-Miami) has been filing a claims bill in the House for Victor Barahona. He and his twin sister Nubia were abused by their foster parents, who later adopted them. This was all while under the supervision of the Florida Department of Children and Families. Their case later led to a legislative overhaul of Florida’s child welfare system.
In the past, though, the Barahona claims bill usually went nowhere in the legislature.
But, now, a bill by Sen. Anitere Flores (R-Miami) is already headed to the Senate floor, and Thursday, it passed its final stop in the House Judiciary Committee—sending it on to the full chamber.
“Hopefully, I get this one across the finish line and for the freshmen [lawmakers], just know that just because t doesn’t pass the first four years, doesn’t mean it won’t pass in the year five or six,” said Diaz.
Diaz says he’s hopeful this goes all the way because it’s such a tragic case.
“Over the years, they were tortured. They were subjected to all sorts of abuse: mental, physical, and sexual,” added Diaz. “And, ultimately, DCF dropped the ball quite a few times and the sister ended up dead, and the brother ended up almost dead in the back of a truck doused in chemicals, and he’s lived to tell the tale.”
DCF was found to be negligent, after ignoring red flags and calls to their abuse hotline about the kids.
And, Diaz adds the agency is not contesting the claim.
“The Department of Children and Families has agreed to pay $5 million,” he continued. “They already paid $1.25 million. They now owe $3.75 million.”
A change to the bills now states the funds must be paid over a two-year period, instead of a single year.
Another claims bill by Rep. Mike Miller (R-Winter Park) has been filed since 2010. It creates a trust for Leticia Thomas to receive $800,000. DCF already paid her $200,000.
“Leticia Thomas was removed from her home at 14-months-old and placed in a foster home by DCF,” said Miller. “Two years later, her foster father pleaded no contest to sex crimes with a 13-year-old and yet, DCF allowed Ms. Thomas to remain in the home for another eight years. He went on to sexual abuse her, until she ran away and sought protection of law enforcement. The good news Mr. Chairman is she is now 21-years-old and is now in college and would like to specialize in treating traumatized children.”
Another uncontested claims bill is sponsored by Rep. James Grant (R-Tampa). In this case, DCF was found to have 50 percent of the blame for knowingly placing an abused child—known to be abusive towards other kids—in the care of foster parents with children of their own.
“That foster child had a serially documented sexually violent history,” said Grant. “That foster child then did the worst of the worst to the children of the natural born parents. This is a claims bill in the amount of $5,076,000. There are zero lobbying fees. And, the maximum attorney fees under the existing rules are $1.269 million.”
After passing their last committee Thursday, all three bills will now be taken up by the full House.
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