Disclaimer: Most cases result in a lower recovery. Results may not be typical and reflect awards before deduction for attorneys’ fees and expenses. It should not be assumed that your case will have as beneficial a result.
Eight developmentally foster care children who were placed in what one judge called a “house of horrors” foster home have settled with New York state adoption and child welfare agencies and their state-contracted providers for $17.5 million. The settlement brings the total paid by the defendants to more than $26 million.
The 2014 New York settlement follows a $9.7 million settlement in 2013 for two of the plaintiffs in what became known as the Leekin case. It was so named for Judith Leekin, the New York foster mother who took on 22 foster kids and pocketed $1.68 million in adoption subsidies. She went on to live a lavish lifestyle while keeping the kids locked up, underfed and uneducated. Leekin today is serving an 11-year prison sentence for fraud and awaits further sentencing.
“This was a horrifying case of failed oversight by state agencies and their providers contracted to protect the needs of society’s most vulnerable,” said Howard Talenfeld, the foster care, child abuse and disabled persons attorney who represented the plaintiffs. He worked with attorneys from Babbitt, Johnson, Osborne & Le Clainche, P.A., in West Palm Beach, Florida.
“Although the settlement cannot replace the family these kids, who now are adults, should have had,” he continued, “the money from the settlement will ensure the plaintiffs have a safety net protecting them for the rest of their lives.”
The case stems as far back as the 1980s, when Leekin systematically took what eventually were 22 foster children into her New York home. Leekin created at least four fictitious identities to adopt the disabled children. Leekin imprisoned the kids, some of whom were profoundly mentally retarded, in cages or with handcuffs and zip-ties. She physically abused, threatened and starved them and denied them any outside interaction, education or even medical care.
When Leekin sensed New York officials were on to her in 1998, she moved in 1998 to Florida with 10 of the children. Her fraud was discovered in 2007 when she reportedly tried to abandon an 18-year-old foster child at a local Publix Super Market.
Attorneys for the children fought a long and arduous federal court battle. They claimed that officials in New York City’s Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) and its contracted care providers failed to properly screen Leekin and uncover her rouse. Through the case, plaintiffs attorneys overcame unfavorable court rulings.
In the end, the plaintiffs prevailed in the legal system, but they still suffer medical and behavioral issues. All require expensive, long-term educational, medical, psychological and sociological care and treatment.
“As children, they suffered the most horrific abuse and neglect that have followed them into adulthood. They have no life skills and need assistance with the most basic care,” Talenfeld said. “This settlement won’t give them back their childhood, but it will help them with the years ahead.”