The last time anyone from the state saw Tamiyah Audain alive, she was covered head-to-toe in clothing, “moaning” as she sat on the lap of her caregiver. The attire concealed a terrible secret: the severely disabled and sickly 12-year-old had lost more than half her weight, and her lower body was pocked with bed sores and wounds — one so deep her bone was exposed.
The apparent cause of her death in a Lauderhill apartment last month: suspected starvation. All right under the nose of ChildNet, the privately run Broward foster care agency paid by the state to protect her.
“It’s an awful way to die,” said Gwen Wurm, a University of Miami pediatrician who heads the medical foster care program for Jackson Health Systems. “People in that condition are usually groaning and writhing, unless they are so drugged that they don’t feel anything.”
An internal report released this week by the Florida Department of Children and Families shows that Tamiyah, who suffered from autism, mental retardation and seizures, apparently had lived a horrific last few months.
Her caregivers admitted locking her in a bedroom for hours — allowing her to emerge for meals. Still, the once chubby child who loved to eat had been reduced to about 50 pounds when she died. Three separate tranquilizers used to subdue Tamiyah’s difficult behavior left her so sedate that her foster care caseworker wrote the child was in a slumber during many monthly visits.
Though medical examiner and police investigations into Tamiyah’s death remain open, DCF’s interim secretary, Esther Jacobo, immediately vowed to make sweeping changes “to prevent a tragedy like this from ever happening again.”
“It is clear from our findings that Tamiyah experienced severe medical neglect that likely contributed to her death,” Jacobo told the Miami Herald
“As a former prosecutor, I understand and respect the role of law enforcement in this process,’’ she said. “While their criminal investigations understandably take longer, we have an ongoing mandate to quickly learn from tragedies to assure children in our care are protected.’’
The thousands of pages DCF released this week under a public records request from the Herald show multiple factors contributing to Tamiyah’s death: Her challenging disabilities, an overwhelmed caregiver and an inattentive caseworker. She is one of more than 20 children with a DCF history to die since the spring.
By the time the state-approved caregiver, her cousin Latoya Patterson, called police to her apartment on Sept. 25, Tamiyah’s body was already in rigor mortis.
Police described a hideous scene: Roaches roamed the home freely. Tamiyah “was observed with various marks/scars all over her body [and] arms,” a DCF report said, adding the apartment where Tamiyah died had a “stench” consistent with the smell of “rotten skin.” One wound, which police called a bed sore, was so deep that “you could see the bone.”
Neither Latoya Patterson nor her father, Dennis Patterson, would discuss Tamiyah’s death with the Herald.
Tamiyah entered Florida’s foster case system in late 2012. Temporarily, she was sent to live with a cousin in Lauderhill, though another relative in Kentucky was seeking custody.