Justice for Kids has established a long legacy of public service in support of Florida’s at-risk children.
Our attorneys provide hundreds of hours of pro bono service annually, serve in or assist the Guardian ad Litem Program, and provide necessary guidance to lawmakers seeking to improve the child welfare system.
No lawyers in Florida have left a more permanent stamp on the child welfare system than those at Justice for Kids. Under the guidance of founding partner Howard Talenfeld, our work has delivered systemic reform that seeks to reduce the prevalence of injury, harm and damages to at-risk and foster children in various state child welfare settings.
The lessons learned from these cases have been written in Florida statutes, case law and community based programs. Howard’s successful 1998 class action lawsuit, Ward v. Kearney, established institutional reforms in the Broward County foster care system and almost tripled the state’s budget for Broward County’s child welfare system. The 1999 case, Baumstein v. Sunrise Communities, resulted in an appellate ruling that established a private cause of action for damages based upon the violation of Florida’s Bill of Rights for the developmentally disabled, a law that’s drafting and passage Howard personally helped oversee. Howard also was instrumental in the creation of Florida’s first pilot program for attorneys-ad-litem for dependent children.
Most recently, Howard helped write the law that required mandatory reporting of child-on-child sexual abuse and rape in community facilities. He advocated for and helped encourage passage of a 2014 law providing the appointment of an attorney for dependent, special needs child victims of sexual abuse, child victims of sexual trafficking, children who are on psychotropic medications, and children who have been committed to a residential treatment facility who previously had no representation.
Child advocacy isn’t what we do, it’s who we are. Justice for Kids partner Stacie Schmerling has more than 15 years of experience as a veteran child abuse case worker, investigator and child advocacy attorney.
Howard also is the founder and President of Florida’s Children First, (www.Floridaschildrenfirst.org), the state’s leading child advocacy organization dedicated to protecting the legal rights of at-risk and foster children.