When a teenage foster child represented by Coral Springs attorney Andrea Moore began lactating — though the girl was not pregnant — Moore wrote a letter to a child welfare administrator, then shared the missive with a reporter.
The state Department of Children & Families, Moore wrote, had been using powerful mood-altering drugs as chemical restraints to control unruly foster kids. And the children were suffering because of it.
“When I questioned the need for anti-psychotic drugs,” Moore wrote, doctors justified the prescriptions by phonying-up diagnoses to match the drugs, some of which were not — and still aren’t — approved for use among children.
Moore’s letter to a DCF Broward administrator set in motion a years-long campaign by children’s advocates to curb the use of sometimes dangerous psychiatric drugs among kids in state care. In 2005, Florida lawmakers passed legislation protecting foster kids from unwanted and sometimes dangerous medication. It was the first among several bills Moore championed to protect children being raised by the state — and to help foster kids live more normal lives.
Moore died Tuesday morning following a prolonged battle with cancer. She was 70.
“She was a presence in the courtroom,” said retired Broward Circuit Judge John Frusciante, who presided over child welfare cases the latter part of his judicial career. “You knew she was there. At some point, she became my go-to person to get accurate, independent and well-reasoned thoughts on what was going on with individual children and their futures.”
Moore was raised in Toledo, Ohio, where her father was one of the region’s largest electrical contractors. When a divorce left her raising a young daughter alone, Moore moved to South Florida, where her parents had retired.
Moore already was working at the city attorney’s office in Coral Springs when she decided to go to law school. Broward County Judge Ginger Lerner-Wren remembers seeing classmate Moore in the row of desks in front of her when class began. “She had a coffee thermos that stood about three feet tall,” Lerner-Wren said. That’s when Lerner-Wren knew Moore was serious about law school.
Though Moore was juggling a full-time job, and raising a young daughter alone, she had time to host a study group, prepare “healthy salads” for group members, organize a training for guardians ad litem and help form Nova Southeastern University’s chapter of the Florida Association of Women Lawyers, the first in the state, Lerner-Wren said.
Years later, Lerner-Wren was presiding over Broward foster care cases during a tumultuous time for the state: Foster children were living in state office buildings, and taken to motel rooms to sleep at night. At a Broward County treatment center, foster teens were being physically abused. No one knew for sure whether foster kids were going to school or even seeing doctors.
Lerner-Wren remembers getting a call from a court-appointed guardian ad litem who claimed she had watched a caregiver at a psychiatric treatment center drag a foster child who had cerebral palsy by her hair as punishment. Lerner-Wren scheduled a hearing for the next day, and appointed Moore to represent foster kids in her division.
Moore, she said, “understood that every child in the foster care system was at risk, and every child needed an attorney. We were really focused on the right to counsel.”
Within Broward’s child welfare courts, Moore quickly earned a reputation as a lawyer who did more than represent her youthful clients. For many, Moore became a mentor or surrogate parent.
“She established a rapport, a respect, with every child who was old enough to recognize she was there,” said Frusciante, who retired in 2010. “She was extended family to each and every child she had any responsibility for.
“Her work in the [child welfare] system was legendary,” Frusciante added. “It was very personal.”
When she was representing children being raised by the state, no request seemed too big — or too small — said Linda Siemer, a children’s advocate who worked with Moore on numerous cases.
Siemer represented a boy in foster care who appeared to be very bright, but was performing poorly in school. He said he wanted to be an astronaut.
As a foster kid, the youth was lucky to be able to afford a movie. Siemer asked Moore for help, and the two raised enough money to send the boy to space camp — three times. He’s now in a nuclear submarine program with the U.S. Navy, Siemer said.
Another foster child complained to Moore that she was being teased at school because she didn’t have a bra, and her caseworker refused to buy one. Moore told a judge in open court that “this child needs an advocate who can actually go out and buy her a bra.” The judge ordered it.
Sara Bennett Wood was introduced to Moore a few years after she had aged out of foster care. Wood was working for DCF, but also leading the agency’s Youth Advisory Council. At meetings across the state, Wood was asked to speak openly about the most traumatic events of her young life — and relive them, over and over again.
Moore urged Wood to leave DCF, and to forge a life of her own, one that didn’t require her to open a vein constantly.
“She was trying to help me find a path where I wasn’t having to relive my history every day,” Wood said. “She tried to help me find something I was good at, that wouldn’t be child welfare.”
With Moore’s encouragement, Wood went back to school, got a teacher’s certificate, a master’s and doctoral degree, and became a teacher. At 42, she is now the reading specialist at Rutland Middle School in Macon, Georgia — and the mother of four children.
“She told me that I could make a difference in the lives of foster kids with my own knowledge, education and experience — and it didn’t have to be as a victim,” Wood said. “She expected a lot out of me, and she knew I was going to do great things.”
Michael Dunlavy met Moore around 2002, when the advocacy group she then led, Florida’s Children First, presented him with an award at a Jacksonville fundraiser. He had recently left state care after about 12 years, and was working with other foster care grads on reform.
“She came up to me afterward, and said, ‘We’re going to be working together,’ ” Dunlavy said.
For the next few years, Moore and Dunlavy spoke at committee meetings before the Legislature, met privately with lawmakers and helped draft bills designed to improve the lives of foster kids. Studying a bill to strengthen the state’s public records law, Dunlavy observed that the words “reasonable time” left too much wiggle room for recalcitrant bureaucrats.
“You should think about going to law school,” Moore told him. And then she began a campaign to convince him. Suddenly, DCF administrators, lawyers — even then-Gov. Charlie Crist — all were twisting Dunlavy’s arm to apply. When he was accepted to St. Thomas University’s law school, and offered a scholarship, Moore arranged for charitable foundations to fund what the scholarship didn’t. Then she helped pay to furnish his dorm room.
“She really filled the role my mother wouldn’t fill,” said Dunlavy, who, at 36, has been practicing law for five years. “She listened, and always had advice. “Not too pushy. Not judgmental.”
“When you grow up in care, you learn quickly which adults mean what they say, but you have to be selective in which adults you make an emotional investment in,” Dunlavy added. “With her, there was no computation necessary. It was just a feeling that she was who she said she was. A level of comfort.”
Moore is survived by her father, Albert Lobert, her brother and sister-in-law, Michael and Olga Lobert, and her daughter, Wendy Moore.
Moore’s funeral will be in Toledo, Ohio. A celebration of life will come afterward in South Florida.