BROWARDPublished Wednesday, August 9, 2000, in the Miami Herald

Agency probes claim girl, 5, was abused


State child welfare authorities are investigating allegations that a 5-year-old Miramar girl who has spent the last two years in foster care was sexually abused while living in an emergency shelter run by the Children's Home Society.

The allegations -- the source of which was not disclosed during a court hearing Tuesday -- involve a girl who has been at the center of controversy in recent months. Her father, Paul Scott Abbott, a freelance writer and lay pastor, has launched a crusade to regain custody of his daughter. Child welfare officials say he is an unfit parent.

Ben Schirmer, the Children's Home Society's executive director, said he was unaware of the allegations.

``We have been providing care in our emergency home for five years now,'' Schirmer said Tuesday. ``I believe we provide quality care, and have for quite some time now, to children in care in our emergency home.

``We take any allegations like this very seriously. I will certainly look into this matter.''

Jill M. Bennett, an assistant attorney general who represents child welfare authorities in court proceedings, confirmed that her agency was aware of allegations the girl may have been abused.

``An investigation is going on at this time on these issues,'' Bennett said.

On Tuesday, as Broward Circuit Judge Dorian Damoorgian held a two-hour hearing to decide whether to award Abbott supervised visitation with his daughter, the saga took a dramatic new turn.

Abbott testified he had been told earlier Tuesday that his daughter had been sexually abused while living at the emergency shelter. Abbott has maintained for two years that he has never harmed his daughter, despite claims from the Department of Children and Families that the girl has displayed inappropriate sexual behavior following his visits.

``Suddenly,'' Abbott said from the witness stand, ``we find out that the state has been abusing my daughter.''

``It's absolutely revolting,'' Abbott said following the hearing, in which he was granted 16 hours per week in supervised visits with his daughter. ``It sickens me that I would come here today for a hearing and find out this would happen to my little girl while the state was holding her.''

When the allegations arose, Damoorgian said he expected the state Department of Children and Families was already looking into the girl's situation.

``There is an obligation to report such actions [to the child-abuse hot line],'' Damoorgian said. ``Failure to do so can result in criminal sanctions.''

``If something like that occurs, it will be reported and investigated,'' Damoorgian added.

At one point, Bennett, who represents the department, seemed to suggest the allegations only involved the girl's father. A moment later, however, Bennett implied someone else might be involved.

Bennett then asked the judge to order the Children's Home Society to submit a report detailing what the agency knows about the matter. The report would help officials ``ensure the safety of [the girl] and other children in the facility, based upon the information that has come to light,'' Bennett said.

The girl was taken from her father, who had been named custodial parent in a contentious divorce, by child protective investigators in April 1998. She has remained in emergency shelter ever since, and a judge has never formally ruled on whether the child should be a dependent of the state.

According to a June lawsuit, the girl has ``significantly deteriorated'' in state care, and now is functioning at only half of her mental and emotional capacity.

Tuesday's allegations come at a particularly troubling time for child welfare officials. In June, two different attorneys filed lawsuits against the Department of Children and Families claiming that Florida foster children were at great risk of abuse and neglect.

One of the suits, filed in Orlando, claimed that children and parents in Florida have been ``terrorized, traumatized and torn asunder'' by a child welfare system more concerned with securing federal dollars than protecting the rights of children and families.

Between 12,000 and 14,000 children reside in foster care in Florida, and many of them have been wards of the state for years.

Copyright The Miami Herald

This article appeared in the Miami Herald 9 August 2000.

It is duplicated without any alteration to text.

Child still not returned to father despite his pleas for her return.

In the latest tragic saga of Ashleigh Abbott, child care workers are reviewing charges that she has been abused while in state custody. "If the state heard of a child being molested at home, that child would be immediately removed, but the same rules do not apply in state facilities," said Paul Abbott, the child's father. He had alerted the authorities more than 2-plus years ago when his child returned from a visit with her mother with a busted lip. Weeks later Ashleigh was taken away and imprisoned in the emergency shelter where she now resides.

The state claims Abbott "had failed to protect the child from abuse she received during a supervised visitation with her mother." He is also faulted "for attempting to deprive his ex-wife -- whom caseworkers had repeatedly accused of being abusive -- of visitations." His former wife had her revoked professional license reinstated, but is prohibited from working with children. She was ordered away from a child from a previous marriage after being found abusive. "She is very convincing in her stories," Abbott said. "Look how she has convinced the courts that I am the bad guy, when records document her abuse. Her false accusations have kept my daughter imprisoned."

• To date, witnesses have not been allowed to testify on the father's behalf.

• To date, despite a court order, Abbott still has not seen his own records.

• To date, Gov. Jeb Bush remains defiantly resolute in not responding to a 27 July subpoena to give his deposition re in the tragic case of child seized 2 1/4 years ago at age 3 and illegally held since in a Broward group emergency shelter.

To illegally justify the incarceration of 5 -year-old Ashleigh, Florida's attorney general's office has asked that a non-existent order be produced, and backdated. Ashleigh’s imprisonment is the longest such captivity without adjudication against a protective parent in U.S. history.

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