BROWARDPosted at 7:50 a.m. EDT Wednesday, August 23, 2000

Bizarre twist in custody battle

Report: Young girl held by state is sexual aggressor


In her more than two years of state care, Paul Scott Abbott's young daughter has somehow graduated from a suspected victim of sexual abuse to an alleged perpetrator, records show.

Four months ago, officials with the Department of Children and Families strongly recommended the girl be moved from a Fort Lauderdale emergency shelter to a small foster home, where she could receive intensive counseling.

But despite an April 28 report that it was in the girl's ``best interest to move to a smaller setting that is closely monitored,'' the child remains at the Children's Home Society's 28-bed emergency shelter. ``That is extremely troubling,'' said Carolyn Salisbury, a law instructor and children's advocate with the University of Miami's Children and Youth Law Clinic. ``If DCF knew nothing about what was happening, one might say it's not their fault. But for DCF to know what's happening and to take no action for months afterward is clearly horrible.''

``If a natural parent allowed this to happen in their own household, the agency would swoop in and remove the child from the household,'' Salisbury said. ``But here this child is in the custody of DCF, and no one is looking out for this child.'' Eva Coblentz, a spokeswoman for the Department of Children and Families in Fort Lauderdale, declined to discuss the girl's case, citing confidentiality.

Paul Scott Abbott, the girl's father, has fought for two years for the girl's return. He insisted Tuesday the only safe place for his daughter is his Miramar home. ``I still believe there is no reason at all why [my daughter] shouldn't be back home with me,'' said Abbott, 43, who is a freelance writer, and lay pastor with two South Broward Lutheran churches. ``I can't imagine that with all of this coming to light that something hasn't been done to return her home and get her out of CHS.''

Abbott's daughter was 3 years old in April 1998 when child protective investigators removed her from his custody, accusing him of failing to protect her from physical abuse she allegedly suffered while on a supervised visit with her mother. Since then, a host of new allegations have surfaced, including charges he sexually abused his daughter.

Child welfare officials, and their lawyers with the Florida Attorney General's Office, have maintained that Abbott is an unfit parent, and that his daughter is not safe in his care. Abbott insists Children and Families officials are retaliating against him for refusing to submit to the agency's authority. The dispute has cast a long shadow. Abbott, a former newspaper reporter who is not unskilled in dealing with the media, has turned his effort into a virtual crusade. His supporters often fill whole rows during court hearings, and one friend has launched an Internet website devoted to helping to ``free'' the child.

In April, child welfare authorities issued a ``Critical Incident Report'' on the girl, which was obtained by The Herald last week in a public records request. The report said the girl had approached another child at the Children's Home Society ``requesting sexual favors.''
Other children at the shelter reported to a therapist the girl ``lets boys `touch her' in the bathroom,'' the report states.

Furthermore, a July 19 chronology of the case prepared by the Attorney General's Office disclosed that the girl's roommate at the emergency shelter had informed authorities twice, on April 21 and a week later, that the girl had ``acted out sexually'' against her.

``There are too many children in this setting for [the girl] to receive the individual treatment that she needs,'' the critical incident report states. ``Additionally, [the girl] is now accused of perpetrating against other children. It is in the child's best interest to move to a smaller setting that is closely monitored.''

The report concludes with a recommendation that authorities ensure the girl is ``within eyesight'' of staff members all day, and ``pursue finding a foster home for this child ASAP (as soon as possible).''

Contact Us
Copyright 2000 Miami Herald

Note: This is a duplicate of actual article, without any alterations to text.