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Tuesday, June 11, 2024 | Back issues
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Suits Claim Kids Put in Home of Sex Predator

(CN) - A social services nonprofit and its subcontractor are accused in court of negligently placing a minor brother and sister in the home of their father, an accused sexual predator.

The two lawsuits, one on behalf of each minor child, were filed Oct. 24 in the Hillsborough County Circuit Court.

In them, Melissa Cordon, a court-appointed advocate for the children, claims that Eckerd Youth Alternative Inc., which does business as Eckerd Kids, and its subcontractor, the Devereux Foundation, failed to complete a background check on the children's father before allowing unsupervised visits.

If they'd bothered to check a state database, the complaint says, they would have found the father was suspected of impregnating a child a year earlier.

Instead, the children — "E.J." and her brother, "O.J." were allowed to visit. According to the complaint filed on behalf of "E.J.," over a period of two years and five months, the father molested his daughter.

In a second complaint, Cordon says the son was exposed to the sexual abuse of his sister.

The two negligence complaints seek damages for the negligence of the nonprofits and two case workers, Crystal Jolly and Aracelis Rosado.

Cordon says prior to the incidents that are the subject of the lawsuits, Florida's Department of Children and Families filed a petition in Hillsborough County court to remove the siblings from their home. The March 2012 petition said the children's removal from their home was warranted based on "abuse, neglect or abandonment."

After a series of hearings, the children were placed in foster care. In October 2012, Hillsborough County Judge Emily Peacock approved a magistrate's report opened the door to the children visiting with their father but only after the completion of a positive home study.

That home study was supposed to be completed by caseworkers Jolly and Rosado, employees of the Devereux Foundation. The complaints claim the agencies "blatantly disregarded" the judge's orders and did not perform any kind of investigation of the father.

"Jolly, Rosado, Devereux, and Eckerd negligently and recklessly disregarded the safety and well-being of the minor plaintiff, by willfully and knowingly failing to perform a home study or background and investigation of in direct contravention of a court order of which they were all specifically aware," the complaint on behalf of "O.J." states. "In doing so, they exposed the minor plaintiff to a dangerous environment and placed in the home of a sexual predator."

The complaints say the father had been investigated in 2011 for impregnating a 14-year-old girl. The information was in DCF's internal database and the Florida Safe Family Network, another database accessible to case managers.

The Department of Children and Families contracts out work to social service agencies to provide client's needs. In 2012, after problems with another agency, DCF contracted with Eckerd Kids to assist children in Hillsborough County. Eckerd Kids, also known as Eckerd Youth Alternatives, runs similar programs in 20 states. Eckerd Kids frequently subcontracts with Devereux, a large behavioral healthcare with offices across the country.

The Devereux Foundation did not respond to requests for comment.

Eckerd spokeswoman Terri Durdaller declined to speak on the lawsuit, but added in an e-mail, "Eckerd Kids is committed to the safety of children in our system of care."

The lawsuit against Eckerd Kids and Devereux could prove difficult. Florida law grants immunity to community-based care providers for the acts or omissions of its employees or its subcontractors' employees.

In 2012, an Alachua County court dismissed a wrongful death lawsuit involving a child, under the care of Devereux, who was killed by her father. Florida's First District Court of Appeals upheld the dismissal.

Cordon, the guardian ad litem, declined to comment on the lawsuits. The attorney who brought the cases, Francisco Vinas of the Miami-based firm Fernandez & Vinas, did not respond to a request for comment.

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