Claiming Abuse, Adopted Children File Lawsuits Against DCF

Date: 2005-09-08

PARENTS SAY STORIES MADE UP

THOMAS W. KRAUSE and SHERRI ACKERMAN
The Tampa Tribune

TAMPA - The adopted children told authorities they had been abused for years.

They described spankings with paddles and 2-by-4 boards. They said they were denied food and, at least once, one of them was locked outside as punishment.

The adoptive parents, Charles and Marjorie Moss, told a much different story — that the children, some coached by their birth parents, made up the horrible stories.

On Tuesday, five years after the adopted children were removed from the home, four of them filed lawsuits against the Department of Children & Families.

The children, all but one of whom are adults, originally were in the home as foster children but later were adopted by the Mosses. The DCF put them into a dangerous home and should have removed them sooner, the lawsuits state.

DCF officials said they could not comment on active lawsuits.

DCF investigations against the Mosses date to 1992. Marjorie Moss, 58, was a foster parent and teacher of other foster parents, DCF officials have said. Three DCF investigations of abuse between 1992 and 1996 were unsubstantiated.

In 1996, the Mosses had adopted children and foster children in their home. The DCF heard allegations that the Mosses were using corporal punishment on their adopted children. No one suggested the Mosses were spanking the foster children, the DCF removed the foster children, fearing they might be subject to corporal punishment.

It is not illegal to spank adopted children, but spanking foster children is not allowed.

In 2000, DCF removed the adopted children, and Marjorie Moss was charged with 34 counts of child abuse and child neglect. The children told authorities that Moss had abused them regularly.

Prosecutors and DCF officials have said the children changed their stories or recanted the allegations several times but said they had enough evidence to move forward with the case.

In 2001, Moss entered a plea agreement on one abuse charge; the others were dropped. Moss agreed to five years of probation, and she and her husband gave up parental rights to their seven adopted children.

This week’s lawsuits were filed under Jennifer M., Lisa M., Patricia M. and Keith M.; no last names were given.

Karen Gievers, the attorney representing all four former adopted children, said they waited so long to file suit because they were still in the foster care system.

Gievers said DCF officials should have removed the adopted children at the same time the agency removed the foster children.

"It is mind-boggling that a department can close a foster house because of concerns for the safety of children, and then leave other children in that very same home," she said.

Moss has less than a year left on her probation, but being accused of child abuse has scarred her forever, she says.

Moss contends the children made up their stories.

"We had one really bad one who influenced the other children," she said Tuesday by telephone. "One was seeing her biological family while working at McDonald’s. They coach the kids, tell them what to say."

The couple have tried to get beyond their painful past but Moss said her probation makes it difficult. Since the arrest, the Mosses have lived on the Social Security checks for Charles Moss, 79.

Moss said she was amazed that some of the children were suing DCF, adding that some still receive benefits from her husband’s Social Security.

"We loved the children the best we could while they were here," she said. "They came from a lot of problems, their families were tore up."

Reporter Thomas W. Krause can be reached at (813) 259-7698. Reporter Sherri Ackerman can be reached at (813) 259-7144.

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