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Ashleigh Danielle Abbott, 5, moved to the Broward County facility for mentally disturbed children on Saturday, Feb. 3, 2001. Any future access to her father is in the hands of defendants in the father's federal lawsuit.

Ashleigh's move comes 2 days after her father submitted to his court-appointed attorney a motion for a stay of execution, pending appeal, of a judge's Jan. 30 order -- and 2 days before that attorney finally filed the motion.

The Florida Department of Children and Families and its accomplices, including the Office of the Guardian ad Litem, have thus succeeded in essentially terminating the father's parental rights without affording him the due process of a termination of rights trial.

The father, Paul Scott Abbott, is appealing the ruling that placed Ashleigh in the facility and also is appealing two earlier rulings by another of the 15 judges to have been on the case since Ashleigh was seized from him nearly 3 years ago. Those rulings, of last fall, determined Ashleigh to be a dependent of the state despite the lack of any sufficient evidence against the father and set forth a "case plan" of impossible hurdles for the father.

DCF, acting through the Office of the Attorney General, and the Guardian ad Litem attorney have succeeded in barring the appeals from proceeding because they are contending that the father, declared indigent by a prior judge, does not qualify for indigency and therefore is not entitled to transcripts needed to pursue the appeals.

DCF has taken the position that Ashleigh should be moved in in about 6 months with her mentally ill, child-abuser mother, despite testimony from the mother's own therapist that she is not well enough to raise the child who the father had singlehandedly brought up since infancy.

Ashleigh is now at the Therapeutic Living Center (TLC) in Wilton Manors, where a "treatment team" of people being sued by the father has unilateral right to determine any future access of the father to his daughter.

One month later, in March 2001, the same "treatment team" decided to cancel the child's supervised 6th birthday party, a party she had been looking forward to. Birthday cards were sent from around the state; it is not known whether she received them.

Published Thursday, February 22, 2001, in the Miami Herald

State child services worsening, report says

Two years after Kayla McKean was murdered by her father and memorialized in a state law designed to protect Florida's children from harm, investigators say the state's chronically troubled child protection system has gotten worse.

In virtually every category studied by state watchdogs in a report that soon will be released, performance by the state's child protection agency, the Department of Children and Families, declined during the last two years while the amount of money spent doubled.

According to the report, the agency did a poor job of quickly visiting reported child abuse victims, closing investigations and returning children to their parents. The agency also is criticized for failing to ensure that children are not abused again after returning home and protect children in its care.

``It certainly confirms what those of us who work in the child welfare area already know: the state is not doing a good job for our children, and if something doesn't change soon more children will be harmed and more children will die,'' said Carolyn Salisbury, associate director of the University of Miami Law School's Children and Youth Law Clinic.


Among the findings:

*  Tens of thousands of cases remain open for more than 45 days.

The backlog of open child abuse cases, or cases open longer than 45 days, increased by nearly 10 percent from July through November 2000 -- from 44,600 cases to 48,529 cases. Between July 1998 and June 2000, the backlog increased by 665 percent.

*  In about half of all cases, investigators take more than 24 hours to respond to abuse complaints.

For fiscal year 1998-1999, investigators met face to face with alleged child abuse victims within 24 hours of receiving a report -- as required by state regulation -- in 54.9 percent of 87,421 calls. The next year, 53.6 percent of 95,951 calls resulted in meetings within the 24-hour period.

*  Foster children continue to be abused at alarming rates.

The legislative goal is that no more than 3 percent of foster children be abused while in state care. In 1998, just less than 4 percent of children in state care were abused. Last year, that figure climbed to more than 8 percent.

``That's horrifying,'' said Howard Talenfeld, a Fort Lauderdale attorney who represents 1,430 Broward County foster children in a pending 1998 federal class-action lawsuit. ``Unfortunately, statistics don't tell the individual horrors that these children experience behind the veil of confidentiality. ``This is not a very good report card,'' Talenfeld added.

Said Chris Zawisza, who heads the Children First Project at Nova Southeastern University's Shepard Broad Law Center: ``I think it's shocking. It's hard to explain why they can't get better.''

The Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability, which wrote the draft report, independently audits and evaluates state policies and services for the Florida Legislature.

At a hastily called 5 p.m. Wednesday news conference, Children and Families Secretary Kathleen Kearney issued a statement criticizing the ``premature'' release of the report.

Kearney said the audit's latest figures are 8 months old and that it often takes up to two years for increased spending to achieve results. Kearney said the agency is performing much better and would provide further details today.

``There has been significant improvement in the past six months that [the accountability office] does not have the benefit of,'' Kearney said.

More ON DCF shenanigans:


Published April 21, 2001, Broward edition of The Miami Herald.

Pappas lost his job heading Broward DCF immediately after a July 1999 phone argument with Kearney in which he insisted that Ashleigh should be returned home to her dad and Kearney informed him that the Bushes did not want that to happen. Next day, he was history.

Ex-aide blasts welfare director
Letters to Bush denounce Kearney


Nearly two years after leaving his job as chief of the Department of Children and Families' Broward outpost, Robert Pappas is blasting his former boss, calling Kathleen Kearney's administration ``destructive and potentially a political time bomb.''

Pappas, 62, wrote in a letter to Gov. Jeb Bush that he was "compelled to express concern for the state of child welfare'' efforts in Florida.

"The hysterical atmosphere in DCF, though not created, has been fostered and nourished by Secretary Kearney,'' Pappas wrote in one of two letters.

Pappas retired from the U.S. Marine Corps as a colonel and worked as an administrator with the state Comptroller's Office before joining Children and Families.

``In more than 40 years of public service, I have never served in a more dysfunctional organization, in particular in an atmosphere that employs Nazi methods, with informers, back-door processes, and exclusionary tactics,'' he wrote. ``I would have hoped that Secretary Kearney would clean up that situation; unfortunately, it appears to be her chosen mode of doing business.''

The governor's office, which did not reply to either of the letters, did not return a call from The Herald for comment.

Children and Families administrators say they remain committed to their mission, ``to ensure the safety and well-being of our state's most vulnerable.''

``Mr. Robert Pappas is a former acting administrator who is entitled to his opinion,'' Deputy Secretary Bob Cohen wrote in a prepared statement. ``The reality is the district is improving in spite of the challenges we face daily in child welfare.

``Rest assured, the strong leadership selected to go into District 10 has the ability provide the guidance and accountability needed to continue the momentum in the district,'' Cohen said.

Pappas said Friday that he joined the department in Broward as a favor to Cohen, who also is a retired Marine. The two had worked together in the office of Comptroller Bob Milligan. Pappas bristles at the suggestion he wrote the letters because Kearney declined to name him permanent Broward administrator.

``I really didn't want the job to begin with,'' Pappas said. ``I went down there to help a brother Marine.''

In his letters, the second of which was dated Thursday, Pappas focused his sights on Kearney's administration -- but he also took aim at the department's policy toward abused and neglected children, arguing that the department is too quick to remove such children from their homes.

The question of whether some foster children could be better served by remaining with their parents -- with some services, such as parenting classes, anger management training or even financial support -- has plagued the agency in recent years.

Richard Wexler, who heads the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform, has released two scathing reports on the state's child protection efforts in which he argues that a ``panic'' has gripped the state, leading to thousands of unwarranted removals of children.

In his letter, Pappas endorsed many of Wexler's claims -- a situation department officials, who scorned Wexler's reports, undoubtedly found galling.

``Since the beginning of Secretary Kearney's tenure, the status of child welfare has not improved, and, is regressing,'' Pappas wrote.