Tuesday, September 11, 2007
Carmel on the Case: DCF Laws
Florida's Department of Children and Families is again under fire. It has been ordered to pay big bucks for legal costs in a case Seven News first showed you last year. Investigative reporter Carmel Cafiero is on the Case.
WSVN -- This home video marks the moment the Evans family was back together after six months of misery. Two-year-old Emily and 6-year-old Jacob were taken from their parents by the Department of Children and Families after mom Sara Evans was accused of intentionally making her daughter sick.
Alex Evans: "My first reaction was, 'Is this is really happening? I mean, I feel like I'm in a different world.' I know it's not true, and I know it could never happen."
As we first reported, Emily has been ill all of her short life.
Sara Evans: "She doesn't walk, she doesn't crawl really. She doesn't talk other than to say, 'Mama.' She doesn't eat by mouth, she eats through a feeding tube."
When the family moved to South Florida, Sarah took Emily to the hospital a number of times for treatment of different disorders.
That raised suspicions and DCF took the children.
But it did so without taking testimony from California health care professionals who had treated the child since birth.
Russel Adler: "Did you ever feel that the mother was doing anything to harm the child?"
Kelly Covault: "No."
When the case got to court, nurse Kelly Covault testified she called a DCF caseworker named Christie after hearing the children had been taken away.
Russel Adler: "And what did Miss Christie indicate to you at that point?"
Kelly Covault: "That if she wanted to talk to me she would have called me."
Russel Adler: "And what did she do then?"
Kelly Covault: "She hung up."
The California doctor who treated Emily also defended Sara Evans.
Dr. Mitchell Katz: "There is nothing, nothing that at all suggests that the history that I was given was anything but the truth."
Dr. Mitchell Katz could not have been more outspoken.
Dr. Mitchell Katz: "We don't have a specific diagnosis for Emily. Just because you do not have a name to label this child's pathological process does not mean it does not exist."
The state eventually dropped the case.
But in order to finance the fight the Evans family had to mortgage their home and so did their parents.
Now DCF has been ordered to pay the legal bills, bills that could reach $400,000.
A circuit judge found that "the department failed to properly investigate" and the failure to review all medical records was "medical neglect."
Russell Adler: "Most families can't afford to defend a dependency case brought by the Department of Children and Families, and that's the really frightening part of all this."
Attorney Russell Adler is now helping the family sue DCF in federal court.
Russell Adler: "We are seeking damages against those who are responsible for bringing the dependency case against the Evans family and for trying to take away their children, forever."
The family has now moved back to California.
By phone Sara told me Jacob is still troubled by the time he spent in the shelter.
Sara Evans: "DCF needs to be held responsible for what they did and hopefully it will prevent them from doing it to any other family."
DCF declined comment on all this based on the fact litigation is pending. No doubt there's nothing easy about protecting children, but the state's obligation to investigate each case completely should be a given.
FOR MORE INFORMATION OR IF YOU HAVE A STORY FOR CARMEL TO INVESTIGATE: