When state child welfare administrators first spoke with Cierrah Raphael in early 2013, they reported she was a 21-year-old prostitute and drug user who had abandoned her baby son with a virtual stranger. She had lost custody of an older child by failing to complete anger management and drug treatment programs intended to make her a better parent.
Department of Children & Families investigator Beth Mack closed her investigation of the Miami-Dade woman on Feb. 21, allowing Elizabeth Wims of Gainesville to continue raising little Ezra Raphael. But Mack left an asterisk in the file: If Cierrah Raphael made any attempt to retrieve her son, Wims was advised to call DCF again.
Wims says she did exactly that, begging Mack to protect the boy from his wayward mom. A preschool teacher says she made a similar plea.
Mack insists she got no such calls.
Whats certain is this: Raphael retrieved her son in April, and he was dead two months later. His mothers boyfriend, Claude Alexis, whipped Ezra to death with a belt, he told North Miami Beach police, because the boy spilled water on a bathroom floor. He was 2 years old.
His mother, Raphael, had been out prostituting that night.
Alexis now faces charges of first-degree murder and aggravated child abuse, and is awaiting trial in jail. Raphael was jailed on child neglect charges.
They killed my baby, Wims, who lives in Gainesville, told The Miami Herald. Im very upset with them, she said of DCF. Very upset.
Ezra is one of at least seven children to die while on DCFs radar during a bloody Florida summer.
DCFs interim secretary, who was the agencys top administrator in Miami when many of the events involving Ezra unfolded, said Thursday that the boys death will be included in a comprehensive review of recent child deaths her agency is conducting.
Esther Jacobo said investigator Mack denies having any contact with Wims after she closed her February investigation.
If it turns out she is lying, she could be the latest at DCF to lose a job because of a child death.
It is because of tragedies, like the heartbreaking and potentially preventable loss of Ezra, that I have ordered a thorough review of all child fatalities due to abuse and neglect in 2013 with prior involvement by the department, Jacobo said. We owe it to these children to look at our processes, take corrective actions and improve the way we do our work. No option is off the table as we look for ways to better protect Floridas vulnerable children.
To help complete the review, Jacobo said she has partnered with Seattle-based Casey Family Programs, which provides technical assistance to state child welfare efforts. The Casey consultants will help DCF collect and analyze data, identify trends and offer insights which we can use to improve our processes.
My goal, Jacobo said, is to do everything we can to engage our partners in our efforts to keep children safe, and this is a big step toward that goal.
Cierrah Raphael had vast experience with the states foster care system. She was partly raised in it.
In 2010, Raphael was transformed from a so-called child victim of parental abuse or neglect to a suspected perpetrator.
Her young child was taken into state custody, and Raphael was ordered to complete a series of tasks, including drug treatment and anger management classes. But an internal DCF email obtained by the Herald shows Raphael was non-compliant with a court-ordered case plan, and the state ceased contact with her on Oct. 12, 2010, placing her older child in the permanent custody of the childs father. Raphael was ordered to have no contact with the youngster.