While agencies bickered, Broward girl died horrible death

 

cmarbin@MiamiHerald.com

A severely disabled 12-year-old Broward County girl appears to have been starved or neglected to death — while under the care of a privately run foster care agency under contract with the state.

Tamiyah Audain was taken into state care in December 2012 when her mother died and her father declined to care for her. The pre-teen, who was diagnosed with both autism and a rare genetic disease that causes tumors to grow in the brain and other vital organs, was sent to live with a cousin, under the care of ChildNet, Broward County’s privately run child welfare agency.

In Florida all of the state’s foster care and adoption services are performed by private providers under contract with the Department Of Children & Families.

In the ensuing 10 months, Tamiyah appears to have languished as at least two state agencies squared off over where she would live, what care she would receive, and who would pay for it. When Tamiyah’s body was found at around midnight Thursday morning, a report said, she appeared to be severely malnourished, and police saw bedsores and an “open wound” on her body. Police also documented a “stench” in the bedroom where Tamiyah was found.

Tamiyah became one of at least 20 Florida children who have died since this spring during a period of significant turmoil for the state’s child welfare agency, DCF, and the second Broward child whose death is expected to reveal significant lapses at ChildNet, DCF’s private provider in Broward.

Lauderhill police have refused to discuss the girl’s death.

DCF also declined to discuss Tamiyah’s death, saying the case remained under investigation.

At the apartment where Tamiyah lived and died a young woman slammed the door when a reporter visited.

Tamiyah’s cousin, Latoya Patterson, called for rescue at 8 p.m. Wednesday, telling authorities she found the girl unresponsive several hours after administering medication.

Diagnosed with tuberous sclerosis, a rare and extremely disabling condition, Tamiyah was “totally dependent on others for her needs, and [was] unable to bathe, feed or express herself,” according to a DCF email obtained Friday by the Miami Herald. Tamiyah had the intellectual capacities of a 2-year-old.

Tamiyah’s death also underscores the deep tensions among state social service agencies that frequently battle over who will pay the bills for disabled or frail children who are in state care. As recently as this week, a meeting had been scheduled — and then cancelled — among top administrators of DCF and the state Agency for Persons with Disabilities. The two agencies had been trying to develop a “cost sharing formula” that would enable disabled children in DCF’s care to obtain needed services from the state, including rooms in group homes that specialize in caring for disabled children.

When her mother died, Tamiyah was sent to live with a maternal cousin, who told authorities she could only be a “temporary” caregiver, according to a DCF incident report. The plan was to send Tamiyah to Kentucky, where she would be raised by an aunt. But there was a glitch, the report said: Tamiyah’s aunt in Kentucky, who was deemed to be an appropriate caregiver, was willing to permanently raise Tamiyah, but not adopt her. ChildNet was unwilling to send Tamiyah to the aunt without an adoption.

So Tamiyah remained, instead, with a cousin who, records say, was ill-prepared to care for a disabled and sickly child.

In January, DCF’s abuse hotline received two reports that Tamiyah had “marks all over her body. The marks are similar to dark bruises on the upper thigh and upper arm.” The Broward Sheriff’s Office, which investigates child abuse allegations for DCF in Broward, closed that investigation by discounting claims of physical abuse, but with assurances that ChildNet would continue to oversee the girl’s safety, an email says.

A preliminary DCF review of Tamiyah’s foster care records suggests ChildNet had been warned repeatedly that the girl’s caregiver was “overwhelmed” with the responsibility of a medically complex child, and likely unable to care for her. Patterson, the report said, missed several medical appointments. She complained to ChildNet that she was not financially able to bear the burden of Tamiyah’s care. When Patterson asked the agency to pay for Tamiyah’s adult diapers, ChildNet failed to act. The report suggests ChildNet failed, despite repeated requests from Patterson — and an order from a Broward judge — to obtain Medicaid to pay for Tamiyah’s health care.

The review says ChildNet case workers may not have visited Tamiyah since July, in violation of a state law that foster children be viewed each month.

In recent months, Florida Children’s Medical Services was working with Patterson to find a more appropriate home for Tamiyah, and had made “numerous” attempts to persuade the state’s disability agency to either take control of the child’s case or, at least, provide services, the report said. But it took four months just to get an appointment with the Agency for Persons with Disabilities, and the results of the appointment were “unknown.”

Patterson also “sought help for additional services and possible assistance from ChildNet,” the report said, adding the agency agreed only to provide four hours of respite care — on one occasion.

A social worker with Broward Health, North Broward’s publicly funded hospital program, told an investigator that “on numerous occasions she tried to get ChildNet to seek out a more appropriate placement for the child. The caregiver did not have anyone else assisting her on a regular basis and it was becoming increasingly difficult for her to take time from work. Emails were sent to the [caseworker] and her supervisor of the concerns they had about the child remaining in the home of the caregiver.”

Contrary to state law, Tamiyah had not attended school all year, records show.

Tamiyah had been enrolled in the Wingate Oaks Center, a Fort Lauderdale school for disabled children, but had not attended a single day this year, the report said. Earlier this fall, school buses went sent to Patterson’s apartment. But when they arrived, the drivers were told to go away. Patterson told ChildNet she was keeping Tamiyah home because she had an “imbalance” from her medications. .

Sources told the Herald Friday that educators at the school had reported the girl’s absence this year to both Tamiyah’s caseworker at ChildNet and her court-appointed guardian-ad-litem, in hopes of convincing someone to check on her welfare. School workers were devastated Friday to learn she had died.

The little girl lived inside a first floor apartment in the Calypso Cay Apartments in Lauderhill. The large complex with several two-story, yellow buildings has an open courtyard where people gather.

One woman, Stacy Fuller, who was sitting in the courtyard Thursday, said she used to see the girl sitting in her wheelchair all the time.

“I haven’t seen her in a while,” she said.

Miami Herald staff writer Carli Teproff contributed to this report.

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