An extreme shortage of foster homes in Miami-Dade and Monroe Counties leaves children adrift and at risk of harm as they bounce between numerous families, group homes and institutions while their mental health needs go unmet.
International law firm Baker McKenzie and national non-profit organization Children’s Rights filed H.G. v. Carroll on behalf of the approximately 2,000 children in foster care, as well as all those who will enter foster care, whose cases originate in the “Southern Region.” The lawsuit names as a defendant Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) Secretary Mike Carroll, and charges that the state has long failed to address this known shortage of foster homes—with dangerous results.
According to the complaint, of the children who spent time in Miami-Dade and Monroe County foster care between January 2016 and June 2017, over 400 kids had 10 or more total placements; at least 185 kids lived in 20 or more places; more than 50 children lived at least 50 places; and 27 children were bounced around between 80 and 140 placements during their total time in state care. Extreme instability causes emotional and psychological harm and affects brain development.
The complaint also asserts that since 2013, at any given time there have been at least 30 children under the age of 6 who are housed in emergency shelters and group homes, receiving care from shift workers—an inappropriate practice that runs counter to widely accepted standards. Some older children live in locked psychiatric facilities without clinical need because DCF has nowhere else to put them. Others are housed “night to night”—kept in an agency office until late, then left to sleep wherever a bed exists, only to repeat the same cycle the next day.
S. A., one of several named plaintiffs, is a 16-year-old girl who spent months waiting for a therapeutic placement while her mental health deteriorated and she was cutting herself. She was placed in a lock-down psychiatric facility, where she was forced to stay three months longer than necessary because DCF could not find her a suitable therapeutic home. Finally, DCF offered a foster mother an extra $50 per month to care for S.A., even though she was not trained to handle her needs. S.A. began cutting herself again and ran away from the home. While on the run, S.A. fell victim to sex trafficking.
Another named plaintiff is C.P., a 4-year-old boy with Down’s syndrome who was separated from his siblings and housed in a group facility for nearly a year starting at 2 years old; and siblings M.G. and H.G., an 8-month-old boy and 2-year-old girl, who have been in a group facility for the past three months because DCF has nowhere else to house them.