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.
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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.
At a family reunion in July, 2012, Tamiyah’s mother, Constance Bryant, asked her cousin, Teri A. Jackson, to take care of Tamiyah if something should happen to her. Three months later, Bryant was dead of complications from Tuberous Sclerosis, a rare genetic condition she and Tamiyah shared that caused tumors to form on vital organs.
“She said she knew her daughter was a handful, but that I was qualified to care for her because I had done work in child care,’’ said Jackson, who works as a child advocate and lives outside of Louisville. “I had been preparing my home and working to adopt her when this happened. I was planning to take care of her.’’
Jackson never got the chance. A Broward judge in December 2012 ordered ChildNet to perform a detailed background check and home study on Jackson but records show the investigation was never completed. Possibly as early as March, the DCF report found, ChildNet supervisors simply stopped working on Jackson’s application.
“There was no follow up by ChildNet after that point,” the report said.
Jackson told investigators that ChildNet appeared to lose interest in her as a long-term guardian when she informed them she wished to take care of the pre-teen, but not necessarily adopt her. One possible factor: Having a child in a long-term guardianship would have hurt the agency’s standing on a scorecard measuring how many children found “permanency” while in the agency’s care.
Meanwhile, though, medical professionals who came in contact with her state-approved caregiver expressed enormous concerns over Patterson’s fitness, even in writing. They wanted Tamiyah to live in a medical foster home, or a group home with experienced caregivers.
On “numerous” occasions, records show, social workers at the Broward Health hospital system in North Broward reported to ChildNet that Patterson “was becoming overwhelmed.” Patterson herself, DCF records show, had pleaded with social workers for help.
ChildNet administrators expressed surprise to learn that Patterson’s 12-year-old daughter had become Tamiyah’s de-facto caregiver — despite clear rules to the contrary — though Patterson had complained frequently that she had to work and had no help at home.
In the report, ChildNet administrators “acknowledged” their “failure to recognize and document [Tamiyah’s] extreme weight loss.”
“The child’s starvation and dramatic weight loss were less apparent due to long sleeve shirts and long pants,” the report said. Tamiyah’s death is still under investigation by the Lauderhill Police Department, as well as the Broward Sheriff’s Office, which conducts child abuse investigations in Broward for DCF.State records paint a disturbing picture of Tamiyah’s last months.
Though contrary to state law, Tamiyah had not attended a single day of school this year, and had missed 110 out of 180 school days last year. Patterson told child welfare administrators that Tamiyah’s tranquilizers left her with so off-balance that she could not attend, but vowed to send her to school anyway. School administrators said they sent a bus to Patterson’s home for days but Tamiyah never emerged to board it. The school told Patterson Tamiyah was required to get an education. Patterson, they said, ignored their instructions.
Patterson also removed Tamiyah from a specialized day-care center for medically complex children. So in the months leading to her death, Tamiyah was seen by virtually no one except family — and the case worker from Broward’s privately run ChildNet foster care agency.
ChildNet records suggest those visits didn’t amount to much.
Month after month, notes from the visits included the same description of Tamiyah: “Well-groomed in age-appropriate and well-fitting clothing.” Most of the visits lasted only about a half-hour, and the caseworker said that, on her last visit before Tamiyah died, she only saw the child through a bedroom doorway sitting in a chair. A newly minted guardian-ad-litem also visited once but did not notice problems.
The caseworker also acknowledged she had never asked to look underneath Tamiyah’s long sleeves and pants, which hid her bed sores.
A DCF internal memo noted: “Professionals simply believed everything [Patterson] told them without questioning …’’
Though born disabled and never able to speak, Tamiyah was a loving child.
“Tamiyah greeted you with hugs and kisses,’’ said Jackson, who traveled from Kentucky for the girl’s funeral. “She recognized her family. She knew who her mother and brother were. She loved food and loved to smile.’’