|BROWARD Published Wednesday, August 9, 2000, in the Miami Herald
Agency probes claim girl, 5, was abused
BY CAROL MARBIN MILLER
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.
||BROWARD Posted at 7:50 a.m. EDT Wednesday, August 23, 2000
Bizarre twist in custody battle
Report: Young girl held by state is sexual aggressor
BY CAROL MARBIN-MILLER
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).''
Note: This is a duplicate of actual article, without any alterations to text.
BROWARD Published Saturday, August 12, 2000, in the Miami Herald
Report: Agency lax in reporting suspected abuse
`It's not like the CHS, at any time, tried to hide anything from anybody.'
BEN SCHIRMER, executive director, Children's Home Society
BY CAROL MARBIN-MILLER
The Children's Home Society, under investigation for failing to notify authorities about the alleged sexual abuse of a foster child in its care, has been faulted in the past for failing to inform child welfare officials of suspected abuse.
The Florida Attorney General's Office earlier this week notified Broward Circuit Judge Dorian Damoorgian that it had discovered several suspected incidents of sexual abuse while reviewing the records of a 5-year-old foster child. Some of the alleged incidents were not reported to Florida's abuse hot line, as required by law.
The alleged incidents were discovered when Senior Assistant Attorney General Jill M. Bennett began a routine review of records in the case, a high-profile dispute involving a Miramar girl who has been in state custody for two years.
Her father, free-lance writer and lay pastor Paul Scott Abbott, has launched a crusade to regain custody of the girl, who was taken by child protective investigators in April 1998. Child welfare officials say Abbott is an unfit parent. In court records, they have suggested he may have sexually abused the girl himself.
In her report to Damoorgian, Bennett said she immediately notified the state's abuse hot line of the alleged incidents at the shelter and commenced an investigation by the state Department of Children and Families' Inspector General's Office, as well.
The Children's Home Society, which operates a 28-bed emergency shelter near downtown Fort Lauderdale under contract with the Department of Children and Families, also was faulted for failing to notify authorities of suspected abuse in a July 12, 1999, Inspector General's report.
The above is reproduced without any alterations to text.
* Ashleigh Danielle Abbott, 5, moved to the Broward County facility for mentally disturbed children on Saturday, Feb. 3, 2001. 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.
* Drugged kids. Among the toddlers, in a program under the auspices of Florida's DCF, 46 2-year-olds were prescribed anti-psychotics, as well as 67 3-year-olds.Click for media report.
* Five state child-welfare workers told to hire lawyers in grand jury probe. Click for media report.
* Grand jury considers abuse charges against Broward's foster care system. Sun-Sentinel. May 3, 2001
* Miami Herald article documenting attack on First Amendment.
Report sees foster care crisis. The Miami Herald
Dragging Dirt: Click here for story, "Clerk's wife lands in controversy by backing man in custody fight." Miami Herald
Dad to court: Remove child from shelter. Miami Herald
News: Take the Child and Run, (New Times)
"After state regulators took his daughter, judges humiliated him, and Sun-Sentinel editors fired him, you'd think Paul Scott Abbott would throw in the towel." 8 March 2001, New Times
Can a dad ignore sons call for help? Read Gaffney case from Stuart media. This page may contain additional DCF atrocities.
Five state child-welfare workers told to hire lawyers in grand jury probe. The investigation is focusing on foster care conditions in Broward. Click for media report.
Chemical restraints. Among the toddlers, in a program under the auspices of Florida's DCF, 46 2-year-olds were prescribed anti-psychotics, as well as 67 3-year-olds. Almost 600 Florida Medicaid recipients under age 6 were given powerful psychiatric drugs last year with potentially serious side effects -- drugs marketed to combat an illness that experts say is virtually nonexistent among children their age.The drugs -- including Clozaril, Zyprexa, and Risperdal -- are marketed for the treatment of schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders in adults, but in recent weeks, children's advocates throughout Florida have expressed concerns the medications are being used to control the behavior of unruly children, especially those in state care. Advocates Alarmed.
DCF info request nets invoice for $481,118. Plus Katie and Bev DCF cases
Grand jury considers abuse charges against Broward's foster care system. Sun-Sentinel. May 3, 2001
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.'' Please note that Pappas lost his job heading Broward DCF immediately after 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 Jeb Bush did not want that to happen. Read article from Miami Herald article
27 February. New report sees foster care crisis. The Miami Herald
Trial related, September 2000
Miami Herald story, ex-wife testifies
1 ) Child abuse trial begins as Miramar father tries to regain custody of daughter, 25 Sept. 2000
2 ) Miramar father fights yearslong campaign to free daughter from foster care, August 2000
3) Plus father's anguish as trial is delayed - press release dated 7 Sept. 2000
4) and again the exasperation of another delay dated 25 July 2000
Posted 03 August 2000
State Concedes Kearney Failed to Enter Disposition Order in Case in which Broward 5-year-old Held 2 1/4 Years
Attorney General's Office Trying to Get Order Now, Backdated to 1998
Please try to be at Hearing Tuesday (Aug. 8) 3:30 p.m.
Fort Lauderdale, Fla. A senior assistant attorney general has conceded that Judge Kathleen Kearney failed to enter an order of adjudication of dependency and placing Ashleigh Danielle Abbott in state care prior to her assuming the position of secretary of the Florida Department of Children and Families.
This concession, in a letter dated July 27, 2000, and responded to today (Aug. 2, 2000), further underscores the illegal nature of Ashleigh's being held in a Fort Lauderdale group emergency shelter, since April 1998, shortly past her 3rd birthday. (It's the longest such captivity without adjudication against a protective parent in U.S. history.)
However, Senior Assistant Attorney General Jill Bennett is now trying to get the current judge on the case, Broward Circuit Judge Dorian Damoorgian, to file such an order, asking that he backdate it (nunc pro tunc) to Nov. 16, 1998. Attaching a transcript of a Nov. 16, 1998, hearing before Kearney, Bennett noted in her July 27, 2000, letter, "As you may recall, Judge Kearney left the bench in early December 1998. Therefore, a new order was not signed and returned to this office prior to her departure. As a result, I will be requesting an order nunc pro tunc from Judge Damoorgian."
Personal reflections from the final trial day, 29 Sept. 2000. Highlights from the absurdly sad and picayune
o The dubious doubles: a stacked deck your tax dollars at work. Backed by state funding, defense for the DCF, paid with your tax dollars (and lots of them), included lawyers for the Guardian Ad Litem program, the Children Home Society and DCF. Four lawyers, in two teams, such that the state funded group had a four-hour closing argument, Paul, two.
This lopsided arrangement meant that throughout the week, there have been more lawyers defending the state and more collaboration among them.
o A big hullabaloo was made over and over again regarding Pauls appearing fully clothed and in a public meeting place, in a photo with Kathy Willets, a lady of the night - and day - who ran a $2,000-per-week prostitution ring out of her Tamarac home. What wasnt mentioned in the news articles was that that image was taken at a roasting a fund raiser for the journalism society and that the MC master of ceremonies was none other than Dave Barry, our local humorist! The honoree was Willets' attorney. Back in the late 80s, those roasting fundraisers were commonplace.
Sexuality in children
The DCF team described the childs masturbation such that she was groping, humping, doing "something with crayons" under her sheets. This descriptive was repeated by the states lawyers several times. The expert witness provided statistics citing that 50% of pre-school children masturbate, girls do so in greater numbers and express the behavior by rocking and humping toys and teddy bears.
The psychologist also pointed out that masturbation itself was not the problem, but rather it was the adults negative reactions to the behavior that caused a greater harm. Sending a child to his/her own quiet place would be appropriate. Contrary to DCFs arguments attempting to show that such activity was the result of parental abuse, the psychologist stated the childs masturbation was consistent with the tension she felt when she was returned to the shelter after visiting her father.
The DCF team took great delight in announcing that the child was abused because she took her clothes off; again the witness explained that nudity starts around age 4 and stops around age 6. Reference was made to the work of respected child psychologist, Elizabeth Wells.
Perhaps the most horrific finding was not the childs sexual behavior, but rather the fact that two years ago the mother, Linda Abbott, had conceded that that her child was a dependent of the state. Yet it has taken two years for Pauls voice to be heard, during which time their daughter has remained incarcerated in a system gone haywire.
Before dismissal, the DCF team announced that it had every intention of appealing the case. What ferocious perversities fester such that those assigned to help children would elect to keep a five-year-old imprisoned and away from her father who loves her dearly?
Additional coverage from Sun-Sentinel articles.
BROWARDPublished Wednesday, September 6, 2000, in the Miami Herald
Therapist: 5-year-old's behavior suggests sex abuse
BY CAROL MARBIN MILLER
For 2 1/2 years, Paul Scott Abbott has been shadow-boxing with the Department of Children and Families.
In a media campaign, Abbott has accused child protection workers of kidnapping his 5-year-old daughter. Citing the confidentiality of child dependency actions, child welfare officials have refused to counter his attacks.
But on Tuesday, for the first time, state officials offered a glimpse into why they believe Abbott should not be left alone with his daughter. In the opening salvos of what is expected to be a long hearing over whether Abbott is a fit parent, state attorneys elicited testimony suggesting Abbott may have sexually abused his daughter.
Lawyers from the state Attorney General's Office, which represents the Department of Children and Families in Broward County, asked Circuit Judge Daniel True Andrews to keep the girl off the witness stand, saying the experience would likely harm her. Instead, they sought permission to quote statements the girl made to her therapist.
In about five hours of testimony Tuesday, therapist Kathleen Conrad from Kids in Distress described the little girl as a controlling, aggressive child who has repeatedly behaved in a manner that is troubling to her caregivers. She touches herself excessively, and has asked other youngsters to behave inappropriately.
In April, for example, workers at the Children's Home Society shelter, where the girl lived, reported that she ``was found acting in a sexually inappropriate manner with a stuffed animal,'' Conrad testified. Shelter workers said the girl's behavior seemed to be triggered by a visit from her father.
When Conrad asked the girl about the incident, she ``stated that her daddy told her a secret, and she was not allowed to tell me because her daddy wouldn't allow her to tell me. She was extremely nervous, agitated, yelling and screaming, plus masturbating,'' Conrad said.
Later that month, during another therapy session, the girl began playing with three horse dolls, which she called a family. The girl held up a horse that she identified as the ``daddy'' horse, and told Conrad that ``the daddy horse touches the baby horse's private parts.''
Conrad told the judge she believed the girl to be truthful ``more often than not,'' and she believed the girl's statements to her presented ``caution flags'' that alerted her to behavior suggesting sexual abuse.
Under cross-examination by defense attorney Brett P. Rogers, though, Conrad acknowledged that the girl had often tried to ``trick'' her therapist, and had made untrue statements several times.
In one report, for example, Conrad noted that she had confronted the girl with her denials of an incident that a staff member saw, in which the girl threw a shoe at someone. ``I observed the child lying about everything,'' Conrad wrote in her report. And in a June report, one preschool teacher wrote that the girl ``continues to lie to staff often.''
History First Release posted on ExtraLove site, dated May 16, 2000
10th judge recuses self in Ashleigh case, 5-yr-old Illegally Kept from Dad 2 yrs
Broward County (Fla.) May 16, 2000.
Circuit Judge John Frusciante recused himself Monday (May 15) prior to a scheduled hearing in the case of 5-year-old Ashleigh Danielle Abbott, illegally held in a group emergency shelter for more than 2 years (longest a U.S. child has been so held without adjudication against a protective parent). Judge also ordered sealing of the state's slimy recusal motion, which got into personal family matters of the judge. Karen Gievers of Children's Advocacy Foundation (ph 850-222-1961) is moving forward with state and federal actions, including class action, on Ashleigh's behalf, but circuit court case again stalled as there are no more judges remaining in the division. Uncertain re how it will be reassigned. I'm praying a special appointment, perhaps of a retired judge from out of jurisdiction, will be made so that this, the 11th judge on the case, can return Ashleigh. Please keep us in your prayers. God bless, Paul Scott Abbott
Last Media Advisory (via e-mail --14 May 2000)
5-yr-old Ashleigh (Fla. political prisoner) hearing Mon. 5-15
In Case of Broward 5-Year-Old Illegally Kept from Dad 2 Years...
Hearing Monday, May 15, at 4:30 p.m., as State Attempts to Force Judge Off Case after Extending Restriction on Dad's Access to Child, Contrary to that Judge's Order
>Federal Class Action to be Filed This Week<
WHO: Ashleigh Danielle Abbott, 5, remains illegally held 2-plus years in Broward emergency shelter (longest a U.S. child has been so held without adjudication against parent) while counsel for Florida Department of Children and Families now seeks to force a fair judge off the case.
WHAT: Broward Circuit Judge John Frusciante, who May 3 ruled to return Dr. Susan Cislo's autistic child and has made other recent fair rulings, not always agreeing with DCF's out-of-control "kidnappers," is now faced with a motion to recuse himself from Ashleigh's case under state threat related to horrific attacks on the judge. Motion to strike the recusal motion seeks prosecution of DCF officials and their attorneys for child abuse themselves. With Judge Frusciante out of town, state created alleged "emergency" to get magistrate hearing (the 10th judge on the case in 2 years) at which restrictions on parental access to Ashleigh were extended, contrary to Judge Frusciante's order. Tallahassee attorney Karen Gievers of Children's Advocacy Foundation (850-222-1961) slated to this week file federal class action suit, of which Ashleigh is only named Broward member. Gievers already has state court action against DCF Secretary Kathleen Kearney (the Broward judge who took Ashleigh in April 1998) and Broward DCF Administrator Dr. Phyllis Scott. Law firm of GOP Chair Cardenas hired by DCF to defend. Hearing on that suit set for May 31 at 8:45 a.m. before Judge Patricia Cocalis, Room 1010, Broward County Courthouse.
WHEN: Monday, May 15, 4:30 p.m.
WHERE: Room 910-B, Broward County Courthouse, 201 SE 6th St., Fort Lauderdale
CONTACT: <firstname.lastname@example.org> <PaulScott@aol.com>
This message is sent because you expressed interest in learning more about Ashleigh's case. If you feel that you have received this message in error, please return this communique to us with the word, "Remove" in the subject head so that we can remove your name from our distribution list. Thank you for your patience.
I am adding this note because I am so repulsed by what is happening to Pauls daughter that I don't know what else to do. Know that I met his daughter Ashleigh, both were here in my home. And while visiting, Ashleigh played with our dog --- wasn't even of scared of her -- a rescued greyhound who was bigger than she was at the time. Ashleigh was two-years-old and full of life.
There is something insidiously repugnant about a 5-year-old child entering her third year of incarceration in a Fort Lauderdale emergency shelter while her father pleads for her return. The state of Florida's latest move was to have Judge John Frusciante recuse himself from Paul's case after he ruled against the DCF last week. In that case Dr. Susan Cislo regained custody of her autistic son against the state's wishes.
Now, in retaliation for this, the state has cancelled a hearing that had been scheduled for Monday, May 15, by doing or saying something such that Judge Frusciante dismissed himself. Paul will not elaborate because he believes Judge John Frusciante is a fine person and does not want to cause harm to him. Yet without a remedy by the state, his daughter remains a hostage by a childcare system gone amok. Paul does not have a rehearing date, does not know who else might hear the case. When he called yesterday, he spoke about filing a federal "habeas corpus" suit based on the fact he is denied a remedy by the state.
Getting a federal hearing will take time, months and even years and all the while Ashleigh will remain imprisoned in an emergency shelter. Also, Paul's visiting hours have been greatly reduced. To me this is deplorable. I remember the little girl who played with our dog and ate cookies while drinking milk from a shaky cup of milk held with both hands. That little girl is long gone; who knows what years in a shelter have done to her. "The price of delay for children in the legal system is a hidden scandal. While officials and courts ruminate, children age and the facts of their lives change."
I urge you -- beg you, in fact -- to do some heavy investigative reporting into what is happening to Ashleigh. Find out why an innocent child is rotting away in a shelter --- how the state can sanction 25 months of captivity. You seem to be her only hope.
Many, many thanks