Miami-Dade County

Broward suit claims negligence in foster care screening

Broward County child welfare administrators placed a 7-year-old foster child in the home of a man suspected of child molestation after failing to adequately investigate the man — resulting in the youngster’s eventual victimization, a lawsuit filed Tuesday alleges.

The suit claims that ChildNet and a subcontractor erred by granting a foster care license to then-49-year-old John Michael McGuigan — and by renewing the license repeatedly. The suit alleges that the 7-year-old, known only as R.S., was molested while in McGuigan’s care.

The 7-year-old was removed from McGuigan’s home by a judge after a different young adult man told police in Broward that McGuigan had molested him many years earlier in Massachusetts. McGuigan resigned from his post as head of the Broward House HIV service center in 2012 after the Miami Herald reported that he had been linked to that allegation and others. He was not charged with a crime.

A spokeswoman for ChildNet, which manages child welfare programs in Broward under contract with the Department of Children & Families, declined to discuss the lawsuit Tuesday. “Unfortunately, since this was just filed, we won't have any comment at this time,” said spokeswoman Allison North Jones.

Howard Talenfeld, a Fort Lauderdale children’s advocate who filed the suit, said the case is evidence of the state’s fractured child welfare effort, in which all prevention, foster care and adoption programs are privately administered — and the various entities seldom communicate with each other. “Another tragedy in Florida’s failed experiment at child welfare privatization,” Talenfeld said.

McGuigan first applied to become a Broward foster parent in May of 2008, the lawsuit alleges. In his application, the suit says, McGuigan made several statements that were false. For instance, the suit says, he claimed he had no contact with his father, John J. “Sean” McGuigan, a man who had been imprisoned for child molestation. The two had, in fact, been in contact, the suit says.

The lawsuit says ChildNet might have rejected McGuigan as a foster parent had authorities completed background checks, such as full criminal history requests with local police departments where McGuigan had lived. Had such investigations been performed, the suit says, the agencies would have uncovered a Delray Beach police investigation into claims by a boy that McGuigan had shown him pornographic pictures and “asked him to perform sex acts.” The case did not lead to criminal charges.

With ChildNet’s approval, McGuigan was licensed as a foster parent on June 17, 2008, the suit says. Nearly four months later, a 7-year-old boy named Gabriel Myers was sent to live in his home. Gabriel had already told authorities that he had been the victim of sexual abuse by an older boy while living with his grandparents in Ohio, and Gabriel’s challenging behaviors had made it difficult to find a suitable foster home for him.

Around March 20 of 2009, Gabriel was removed from McGuigan’s home. During the boy’s stay there, records showed, Gabriel’s behavior had deteriorated badly, and a state panel that investigated Gabriel’s death a month later criticized McGuigan for punishing Gabriel when he acted out, rather than trying to help him deal with his trauma. Gabriel hanged himself in the shower of his next foster home on April 16, 2009, prompting a high-level examination of the state’s treatment of sexually abused children — and its use of psychiatric drugs to control their behavior.

R.S. was placed in McGuigan’s foster home around Aug. 25, 2010, the suit says.

Abuse followed, Talenfeld alleges. After his removal from McGuigan’s home, R.S. told authorities that McGuigan had molested him in the pool of a friend’s house. The boy later was returned to the care of his birth parents, Talenfeld added.

Phone numbers listed for McGuigan in Florida and Massachusetts were disconnected.

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