Four Florida families are suing Gov. Ron DeSantis, Shevaun Harris, Secretary of the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF), Dr. Joseph Ladapo, Executive Director of the Florida Department of Health, Patricia Armstrong, Bureau Chief of Florida Department of Health Child Protection Team, and Dennis Moore, Executive Director of Florida’s Guardian ad Litem Program.

“The theme of our lawsuit is focused on all these kids who had a perfectly available and appropriate family member and those family members were passed over or ignored in favor for people who are connected to the system,” said Attorney Valentina Villalobos.

The 177-page complaint alleges DCF, lead agencies, and contractors who operate the foster care system wrongfully took children from their families without any evidence of neglect or abuse; thwarted the attempts by family members to get custody of the children; and in one case falsely accused a grandmother of abuse and instead, put the child up for adoption. In that particularly twisted and noxious bit of insider trading, a former board member of the agency handling the case adopted one of the children. The child was African American; the foster parents were Caucasian.

“The point of the lawsuit is to stop it from continuing. We can’t necessarily undo the damage in the vast majority of the cases. An adoption in Florida, once it’s finalized, you’ve got one year to try and undo it and it’s never happened,” Villalobos said.

The complaint filed in the U.S. District Court in Tallahassee, is based on the right to due process, protected by the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution; it does not seek punitive damages or even name any of the foster system operators who put “a thumb on the scale” and concealed their self-dealing and other misdeeds from the dependency court judge and the birth parents.

Their identities are known but not cited by name in the complaint. The plaintiffs cite numerous examples showing how foster care workers, DCF attorneys, and Guardians at Litem deliberately blocked “family placement” to steer kids into adoption by “insiders”. Family reunification and placement with relatives are supposed to be the primary goals of Florida’s child welfare system when kids are taken into custody. Tennessee and other states have the same priorities.

Three of the four plaintiff attorneys know a lot about DCF because they were once insiders. The lead attorney, Karen Gievers, was a dependency judge. The plaintiff families were clients.

“We know this has been happening. It’s just now that we’re in private practice and are able to do something about it,” Villalobos said. The complaint was filed last week. “We are being flooded with calls and emails and online submissions from people who are saying the same thing happened to them,” she said.

When the four plaintiff families realized how their related youngsters had been essentially kidnapped, snatched, or internally diverted, they complained to the Governor and Inspectors General of various state agencies. But nobody was held to account. The officials charged with oversight ignored the complaints and they kicked them back to the very same bad actors who did nothing “to redress the relatives of the snatched, diverted children”.

The four plaintiff attorneys decided they needed to take those complaints and file a federal lawsuit.

“They’re doing these things with the permission of the court. But then getting the permission of the court is on the basis of the court not being fully informed or not given the whole story, or evidence is being excluded,” she said.

“I don’t think the judge is being crooked but they’re going off the information that they have,” she said. Villalobos added that one judge should have known better. “The judge rubber-stamped what the department asked him to do,” she said.

The complaint alleges DCF employees, lead agencies, and their subcontractors lied, filed false reports, withheld medical records, committed fraud, and other violations of law. Those actions were widespread and long-standing. The foster system operators failed to do their job properly; they conspired with others to wrongfully take children from their families and gave them to system-connected non-relatives. In short, they corrupted the child welfare system in Florida and ran it like a large child trafficking ring.

State officials pretend such criminal behavior is not happening or that it’s just a couple of bad apples—not enough to spoil the barrel. Actually they have a financial incentive not to act in the best interests of the children.

Under the 1997 Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA), states get federal dollars for every adoption they complete. The payments range from $4,000 to $10,000 depending on the special needs of the child. Foster parents are entitled to certain benefits, including cash payments, when they adopt a child.

Plaintiff attorneys are not asking for jail time or even for firing the people involved. They are asking for a permanent injunction to keep the DCF and its partners from playing those dirty tricks going forward and “such further relief as the Court deems appropriate”. They did not call for the termination of contracts with service providers that were involved in the scheme.

Villalobos expects a decision from the court sometime next year. In the meantime, they may file for a temporary injunction and ask the court to order a corrective action plan that DCF would have to comply with.

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18 Comments

  1. That sounds about right when my daughter messed up and my granddaughter ended up into DCF custody and she was placed in my care they continually did things to make it harder on me to try to make me screwup or get me to give up on my granddaughter I had to get a private adoption attorney to handle my case to keep them from taking her and placing her in the foster care system to be adopted out at a cost of over $13,000 to do so so I can understand those that have little income that are just trying to do the right thing by their families children the state has the advantage to take those children with the families having no reprieve due to finances

  2. Maybe they overlooked returning the children to their families? Or maybe I missed it but severing the adoption should be the first order of business. There should be no adoption from foster care. Foster or return to family. Adoptive homes are not monitored for safety children lose their identity their birth certificates are revised and the lose kinship in their family all to get the same food and shelter they’d get in foster care and it’s not as safe. Oh but it saves the federal government over 300,000 for every welfare dependent child they can get adopted and privately supported and that’s after spending hundreds of millions promoting adoption they bonus payments boutnty payments tax incentives and advertising because it saves hundreds of billions on welfare Medicaid and food stamps compared to returning the children to unemployed or underemployed parents or family. Saving money at the expense of adopted peoples civil liberties

  3. I feel this is happening to me right now. I have been fighting to get my 5 grandchildren out of foster care since September 2021.My daughter passed away 8/18/21 Her and all 6 of her children were born and raised in Syracuse New York. The children father showed up at the seen of her death and took the children with him .I the Mother & Grandmother arrived in Ny the next day. Tried to talk the drug addict Father to let me take the children till he could get his act together and he up and fled to Florida. Where he was arrested by the Marshall’s and transported back to NY where he was Syracuse most wanted. He is a registered sex offender. Numerous arrest record and openly admitted in Florida court within the 24 hr hearing of the children being taken into the system that he has used cocain daily for 42yrs.
    I have a approved ICPC in begaining of December 2021 and just had to do another one on 6/24/22 because it was 6 months ago approved ICPC was completed again. The foster family has told me that the caseworker and supervisor has asked her if she wants to adopt my 5 Grandbabies. I understand trying unification with the biological father. He has just gotten his ICPC done in Ny and was NOT approved. I want all 5 of my grandchildren home with me and there 20 yr old brother that has lived with me since he was 6 months old. We are more then ready for them. Please help us .

  4. Every state needs to give ALL children and All Grandparents open communication and association despite parents. To deny both is both child and elder abuse due to deliberate withholding of love and support and inflicting mental, emotional and physical harm, children need their grandparents. PLEASE get an executive order from the President to cover ALL states to grant this . Need to take away the power of the states to decide if a child deserved the love and conform and help of a grandparent and if a grandparent deserves the right to help its biological grandchild. PLEASE do this. The child is born in America with the right to be loved by its grandparents.

  5. Based on 20 years of experience in FL child welfare, Florida law puts barriers in place for relatives and fictive kin who come forward later in a case wanting custody of a child. For a post disposition change of custody (39.522), the standard for changing custody of the child shall be the “best interests of the child”. 39.01375 (Best interest determination for placement) puts forth 15 criteria to consider for placement changes — and many of the criteria favor the current placement IF they are willing to care for the child to permanency. Relatives who come forward after the shelter hearing are often out of county or out of state — which takes longer to obtain a home study. During these weeks or more often months, the child is forming an attachment and relationship with the current caregiver. Moving would most likely impact school, services (therapy; medical and dental care), extracurricular activities, and access to future benefits — especially if moving out of state. And adding more time to any potential change of custody, law requires a MDT to be held that includes a multitude of professionals associated with the case and a report being submitted to the court. There are so many delays built into the system – the law is stacked against relatives and fictive kin.

  6. the same thing happened to us, our step granddaughter (we’ve had custody of her older brother for years) was taken to Florida at 7 months old for a “visit” she was found outside mom’s vehicle and was taken into custody. Florida DFS contacted us, then proceeded to place her in a foster home even though their residence was in Ohio, they took jurisdiction over her and I flew down, they would not allow me to see her even though they LIVED with us in Ohio all since before she was born. Told me we could do an ICPC and have her transferred home, then they told us bc we were not “Blood” related that we had to get certified for foster care in Ohio and have a home study done, not even kinship but full fledge certification , so we did that as well, they would not notify us of hearings, made it hard to have any contact because we were not blood even though her half brother was and lives with us and she lived here with her mom since before birth. We did all they wanted, jumped through their hoops only to be left out of all the loops even when the GAL and Judge said ICPC when approved. They totally blew us off.
    Baby was with the foster family for 17 MONTHS…until 2 weeks ago when mom got her back and is staying in Florida bc of the case still being open. the foster family she was strategically placed with was planning on adopting her bc they just knew mom would not get clean and jump through their hoops, but she did. Guess the joke was on them, but the whole process and being lied to and not placing her with her biological brother in the home she had been in since birth and taking jurisdiction when she resided in Ohio-her HOME STATE was just totally WRONG!

  7. This is something that has been going on for a very long time. The article is incorrect by saying that the judges are not aware and are just rubber stamping when I know for a fact that the judges are refusing to allow the parents to even speak in their courtrooms and they are only going on the information provided to them by DCF and their Community Care base and guardian at litem.
    Florida’s children Legal Services is absolutely corrupt and this goes back as far as I can remember as early as 2002

  8. This is a blessing because I got a story to tell also they took my son and the people who he was staying with in there care had him driving drunk went to her house to visit my kids he was supposed to been at the group home but was at her house went in to use the rest room she had a big bottle of liquor and a big bag of weed on yhe toilet set and every child in dcf custody that’s was there was purchasing weed from her family members but they took my kids from me SMH and when I went to see my son he stayed high she even go high with them sad.

  9. I have a long horrible story,
    Cps Austin Tx.
    About how bad,dirty Cps did my husband.

  10. My wife and I are currently fighting this right now and have been trying for the past two and half years. We were denied adoption based somewhat on the recommendations of ” The Guardian Ad Litem Volunteer” and “Dependency Case”. The idea that “White” foster parents can better understand the culture and traditions of a Black child over his “Black “biological grandparents is baffling. My wife and I are very interested in joining the lawsuit.

    1. Dont stop. In Florida, the abuse was so insane that the Florida Courts exposed my daughter’s rape information in court records and Judge S.S. actually removed her child for being a rape victim. She would commit suicide weeks later. I got the court dockets and they were insanely fraud. She couldn’t get to the court so called in, the judge claimed she was there. Hard to do when she was on the phone talking to me. She was DRILLED about being raped over and over again. Happened in Seminole County Florida. Yes. It was a clear violation of Marsy Law in the Florida Constitution. Judge stated, she got involved with abusers. Yeah, that was her dream in life to hunt down abusers as if she had not been abused enough. THEN the Judge handed over her child to the second biggest abuser. After that, she felt she wasn’t going to win anything so the day before the next trial she killed herself. It’s a miracle she lasted as long as she did. Federal wanted to charge her landlord for helping in the kidnapping, State Attorney tossed it. They tossed all legal charges but made her pay the price for reporting rape. When someone claims the Judges don’t know, don’t kid yourself.

  11. Mother of 4, reunified with 3, over 2years now. I have not seen my oldest child in 4years now, not once since the shelter almost 4yrs ago(Oct.2018). I was non offending, and my and I were not even in the same county the day my ex and 2 of my other children this cause of action. How can they think they can take away my diamond eyed boy in the Cambridge Program, drug him up on psych meds, give him vaccines, teach him hate! He was 11 when he was taken, he lostb20lbs the 1st year there. No God, No Love, not even supervision. It’s 2houses in 1. 10 foster adolescents groomed to close out to Appla. Which must be a better incentive than returning my child who had/has a beautiful soul and destiny to live. Not like this! I did my case plan in 5months, got my kids back. All but my oldest. And the only people around him are also drugged up on psych drugs adolescents from hard backgrounds Ibwould assume, and these co contracted behavioral health therapists have 0 contact with me or the Dept who gave them the refferal. And I wouldn’t trust this guy who letsbthe kids call him Doc, yet he is credentialed as a RMHC-INTERN and he looks like a member of Nambla!! Sees 10kids in 1 house every week. Conflict of intrest!bBteach of caseplan contracts, mediation agreement contracts, fraud, legal and medical malpractice and even medicaid fraud, all piled up in my room,, no1 cares!! The FL Efile has been compromised by them “GAL ” has a complete blueprint on how to hijack a child. How? When I wasn’t offending, completely jumped every hoop faster than they realized someone could do. Got 3 of the kids back. But whatbis happening to my oldest child? Why!?? I am planning to file my own civil suite or publish my findings soon.. I’m in the district court of appeal under Certiorari, however they are sister courts, and are attempting to run the clock out, so my gut instinct says federal. I have every ounce of proof they knew my son did not Need psych meds, a state appointed child psychologist and former cm both testified my sons statement are coersed. Which coersion can be coded as psychological abuse confirmed. I’m prepping to file suitvon my own in 2weeks. If someone could please assist my son. He deserves a better life. It’s not fair his mother didn’t do anything, and then does everything right, gets reunified, still in Substantial Compliance. I pay $100 for my own hair follicles every 90days, bcuz I don’t trust them! I video my filing process on efile to prevent my documents from bring removed. Ultimately, they dint have mandatory jurisdiction. I have been reunified. They say my child says he will run away, my child has never talked like thus before, and if that’s their true issue *I doubt.. then let his mama handle it like a mama should. This foster mom is about to get a welfare check at her door if the dept doesn’t prove they have seen him soon. She will also be in my suit, as her 30yrs of kickbacks and trafficking 10kids at a time as made her wealthy enough to sue for slander, libel, and emotional neglect and anything that will stick if I can. Every case worker says to contact the knews. I’m starting to go public on social media . My findings will be published if my hostage is not released!! I just pray Shevaun and Ron can afford tge treatment needed to make my son whole again!! He’s worth more than what they gained, and punative damages on this tort of outrage should set future precedence. Why call it a caseplan legal contract if parent signs, complies, yet her child is hijacked and the Congressman can’t even help!! We will see my childvone way, or a million others! 6th cuircuit needs to be reprimanded and repent. .. God Bless these kids!!”

  12. They are CROOKS! They did the same to me! I don’t do drugs have no criminal record have done EVERYTHING and they STILL won’t return my children or give my family a chance!

  13. If Antoine out there will listen I have a story for yall.
    My husband & I live in Texas, de have written to severa pple. about my husband & my experience with Cps here in Austin.
    We have even written to ppl.in Washington.
    They year familias apart.
    They help Aluenate fathers from their children.We souls love to suena severa ppl.here bevknning witt caseworkers Cassandra Castillo,Melissa Perez ,Tanya Ochoa, atty at Litum.Mom Norma Akejo her siblings Elda,Alejo, Stephanie Alejo, Isela Alejo, and few other caseworkers who all Treated my husband Jesús cruz & myself Melinda Cruz like dont, i cant use the words i really want to use, because i will be blocked.
    We need help here in Austin,Tx.
    I really am al.ost positive they do this to many famalies for dure.
    And the worker Are huge Liars especial Cassandra Castillo./ Tanya Ochoa.
    Cps should be shunt down.
    Melinda Jesús cruz (512)552-0984

  14. I too feel like this is happening to me as a grandparent, I would like to know how can I too get in on the lawsuit so my voice can be heard.

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