But before Scherer would agree to unsupervised overnight visits, she said at Friday’s hearing, she ordered ChildNet to provide her a copy of a home study concluding Simmons was ready to care for her son without oversight. The home study, she said, took three months, and she never got a copy.
ChildNet’s general counsel, Derrick Roberts, said the home study came back positive, and the agency sent a copy of it to a Broward hearing officer, instead of the judge. He called the misstep “just an oversight.”
There were, Roberts said, “no bad intentions.”
Beatrice Forbes, who had been Simmons’ case worker at ChildNet defended the agency’s decision to return Antwan to his mother, saying “according to my observation, [Simmons] was doing what she needed to do. Mom had substantially complied with her case plan tasks.”
Scherer also wanted to know why the agency declared Simmons’ an appropriate parent when police had been looking for her. Caseworkers also had documented episodes where Simmons retrieved her son from school without permission and had kept him during visits longer than she had been allowed, Scherer said.
“How was this home study approved by the department, number one, when his mother had an outstanding criminal warrant for her arrest?” Scherer asked.
Simmons’ court-appointed attorney, Richard Kaplan, reminded the judge that Simmons had yet to be charged with a crime, and that the Medical Examiner’s Office still had not determined how the youngster died.
“This is a sad day for all of us,” Kaplan said. “We took extraordinary measures in this case. She was doing very well. It is an unfortunate tragedy. We still don’t know that my client did anything wrong.”
He added: “Everybody wants to blame somebody for the death.”
Scherer said there was blame to go around even if Simmons is not held accountable for her son’s death: “I think the system has failed this child, even if it shows she was not responsible for the death,” the judge said.
“The answers I’m getting,” the judge added, “are not acceptable.”
Antwan Hope, the boy’s father, did not find ChildNet’s explanations very comforting, either.
Asking to speak directly to the judge, Hope said he mostly blames Simmons for failing to care for her son, but holds state child welfare administrators responsible, as well.
“I can never get my boy back,” he said. “I did not place him in this predicament. If anything, I protected my child.”
Added Hope’s mother, Sharon Walker: “DCF is going to move on, but we can’t have A.J. anymore. Why? Because the system failed my grandbaby.”
Hope did have one request for the judge: Since Antwan’s death, he had been fighting with maternal relatives over how and when to bury the boy. “I just want to bury my son,” he said. “Nothing is going to bring my son back. I just want to finish being a father.”
Scherer, in perhaps her last order in the case, told the Medical Examiner’s Office to release Antwan’s body to a funeral home. She then suggested Hope and Antwan’s maternal aunt iron out the details of Antwan’s burial.
Child welfare administrators have agreed to help defray the costs of the funeral.
Miami Herald news partner WFOR-Channel 4 contributed to this report.