Brevard couple files lawsuit against child welfare agencies

A Brevard County couple has filed a lawsuit against five state and local child welfare agencies, alleging officials did not investigate reports that two children, who they later adopted, were being abused while in foster care.

The suit was filed by “Doug Doe and Tammy Doe,” names used to protect the identity of the children, and seeks unspecified damages from the foster mother, Florida Department of Children and Families, Brevard Family Partnership, Florida Mentor, the Devereux Foundation and Intervention Services.

“They ended up adopting two children that had been in foster care for a while and it came to light while (the children) were in foster care that they were being abused by the foster mother,” said W. Clay Mitchell, an Orlando attorney representing the parents. “They made a complaint to DCF about it and they were basically told they needed to drop the complaints” or they would not get to adopt the children, he said.

Mitchell said the children were so emotionally and physically harmed by the abuse that the parents have to give up the 6-year-old girl. The boy is 4.

“They’re both still having significant problems,” Mitchell said. “The little girl is institutionalized and the little boy is at home.”

No criminal charges have been filed against the foster mother in the case. Representatives of Devereux, DCF and Brevard Family Partnership said they could not comment on the pending case. Those agencies will have to reply to the legal complaint, which was filed in mid December, before the case moves forward. The foster mother had no comment and deferred to her attorney, who could not be reached.

Jon Fisher, executive director of Florida Mentor, did release a statement by email.

“Children trust that adults will nurture and care for them, and, as an organization dedicated to doing just that, Florida MENTOR takes their trust very seriously,” Fisher wrote.

“We are very saddened to see the allegations in the lawsuit recently filed. We were not aware of any abuse in our foster home and still aren’t aware that any abuse occurred there. This lawsuit is in its very early stages, and we are unable to comment further at this time.”
The lawsuit says the children told the parents, during visits before the formal adoption, that they were being abused by their foster mother. The parents reported the allegations of “emotional, mental, verbal and physical abuse” but, the lawsuit says, they were told “they would lose their adoption rights if they pressed the issue about the abuse.”

The complaint says the parents incurred medical expenses, loss of “companionship of the children, emotional pain and suffering, interference in their enjoyment in life” as a result of the alleged abuse. The lawsuit says the foster home was approved by DCF.

DCF “owed a duty of reasonable care to its foster children, including (the boy), to take reasonable steps to ensure that foster parents provide safety for the foster children, including (the boy), and specifically to prevent abuse, and to terminate such altercations as quickly as possible once they had notice or reason to believe such abuse may have occurred,” the lawsuit reads.

The suit claims the child welfare agencies did not do those things.

State prosecutors have not been contacted in connection with the incident. FLORIDA TODAY is not identifying the foster mother because no charges have been filed with the state attorney’s office.

The adopting family’s attorney said the ordeal has been devastating.

“They’re both very emotionally distraught; they’re upset,” he said