Last year, I wrote a feature story about three little boys who had been horribly abused in the state foster care system. They were eventually placed with an adoptive family -- but the Department of Children and Families hid the boys' case files and backgrounds from the adoptive parents. As the boys grew up, with no psychological intervention or treatment, they acted out sexually, were cruel to animals (one boy killed ten horses and four cats), and became extraordinarily violent (another brother even tried to murder the mom by poisoning her with raw chicken blood). Experts described them as budding sociopaths, and the parents came to fear them.
Eventually, by accident, the parents learned of the horrors their children had been through early in life and sued the state for not having disclosed the abuse. The state eventually settled for $10 million -- but the deal stood only on paper because state law prohibits paying out more than $500,000 from the Treasury unless the Legislature approves a claims bill authorizing the funds. Only weeks ago did the Legislature do just that, and yesterday Gov. Charlie Crist signed the bill into law.
Today the boys' father, Jorge, described the signing to the Juice: "We went to Capitol and had a small private ceremony. Crist seemed very sincere, and so did the Secretary of DCF, George Sheldon. The best thing is that there's another bill that passed -- SB 126 -- that now allows kids and foster parents full access to their records. They really attributed the passage of that law to our case. That was encouraging."
The boys' mother, Debbie, noted that the money designated for the boys -- $256,666.66 apiece annually for the next ten years -- will be held in trust funds controlled by a board consisting of bankers and lawyers. "The boys don't just get the money [directly]," she said. "It'll be used to pay for services like education and therapy, things they need."
As for the boys, she says, the oldest one will turn 18 on Valentine's Day and will then be able to sign himself out of his residential therapy program if he so chooses. "He used to threaten suicide; he had no will to live. Now, he gets good grades and wants to go to college. He's had incredibly intense daily therapy and made some headway. There's hope for the future." The other two boys, aged 14 and 16, she said, "are stabilized. But they have a long way to go." Asked if her fear has subsided, she admitted, "I'm always going to be looking over my shoulder."
She too was happy to see that SB 126 passed a result of their case. "You know, there are kids in foster care who turn 18 and haven't been able to get their own records. They can't go to college because they can't get their birth certificates." The new law will change that. It will also let prospective adoptive parents learn the case histories of kids they are considering. As Debbie put it: "You need to know who you're bringing in to your family."