And last week, 1-year-old Fernando Barahona was found dead in Cape Coral, two weeks after DCF received a report that the infant had sustained fractures to the back and side of his skull. Fernando’s mother and her boyfriend said Fernando was injured after being knocked over by a dog, an account that doctors considered unlikely. He died after DCF allowed him to remain with his mother. His death, as well, is under investigation.
Cierrah Raphael entered the state’s troubled child welfare system herself in 2006 after her mother died. A previous child of Raphael’s was taken into custody by DCF some time later, and has lived with his father in Western Miami-Dade County ever since.
Then Ezra was born.
Records obtained Tuesday by the Miami Herald show that, at age 1, Ezra came to DCF’s attention on Feb. 1, 2013, when the hotline was told he was living with a “friend” of Raphael’s former foster mother. The “caregiver” was trying to get medical care for the little boy, but was having difficulties because she lacked the necessary paperwork from Raphael. Ezra, DCF was told, “seems to have an anger problem that needs intervention and attention as soon as possible. The mother is aware of this and still has not done what she needs to do.”
Ezra had been living with the caregiver, who is not identified, since June 2012, the report said. Raphael left her son because “she was prostituting to care for herself and could not care for the child.”
Though the brief investigation concluded Ezra was at “high” risk of being harmed, the agency noted he was safe with his caregiver, and there was no need for DCF to act. If Raphael had ever sought to claim Ezra again, the report said, the caregiver was instructed to call the DCF hotline to alert an investigator. The report concluded there were “no indicators” that Raphael had inadequately supervised her son or was in any way a threat to him.
Ezra was living with his mother when he died Thursday night.
Debra Elder, who had been Raphael’s foster mother in Miami Gardens, said Raphael visited her Monday to tell her Ezra was dead. Elder described the toddler as tall, well-mannered and “lovable.” Ezra was walking and talking at only 11 months.
“She loved her kids,” Elder said.
“It’s hard to believe she would have left him [with Alexis] if she thought he was in danger,” Elder added.
Miami Herald reporters Benjamin S. Brasch, David Ovalle, Carli Teproff, and Chabeli Herrera contributed to this story.