Broward County

Florida child welfare worker, 3 others charged in girl’s starvation death

A Broward County grand jury has charged four women — one of them a child welfare caseworker — with ignoring the suffering of a severely disabled Lauderhill pre-teen who withered away and died while under the protection of the state.

Tamiyah Audain suffered from a devastating disease, as well as autism and an intellectual disability. After her mother died from the same disease, tuberous sclerosis, Tamiyah was sent by the state to live with a young cousin, though a more capable caregiver in Kentucky was eager to take custody. On Sept. 25, 2013, Tamiyah’s emaciated, bedsore-pocked body was found in her caregiver’s home. An autopsy concluded Tamiyah was ravaged by infection, and starved to death.

The 12-year-old’s cousin, Latoya Patterson, was charged in an indictment with felony murder, meaning the child died as a result of another felony, aggravated child abuse, said Ron Ishoy, a spokesman for Broward State Attorney Mike Satz. Patterson was arrested Tuesday, and booked into the Broward jail. The charge is punishable by a maximum of life in prison.

A caseworker who was responsible for ensuring Tamiyah’s welfare, Jabeth Moye, was indicted on charges of child neglect causing great bodily harm, a second-degree felony. Moye worked for a foster care agency under the umbrella of Broward’s privately run child welfare agency, ChildNet, which has a contract with the Department of Children & Families. Her charge carries a maximum sentence of 15 years imprisonment.

Also indicted Friday were two psychologists who were involved in Tamiyah’s care, Juliana Gerena and Helen Richardson, Ishoy said. The two women were charged with failing to report suspected child abuse or neglect to DCF’s abuse hotline, which is required under Florida law. The charge is a third-degree felony, punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment, Ishoy added.

Failing to report child abuse has been a crime in Florida since at least 1999, when the well-publicized death of 6-year-old Kayla McKean of Central Florida prompted lawmakers to crack down on professionals who fail to act when confronted with obvious signs of abuse. But it is exceedingly rare for professionals or lay people to be charged with the offense, both in Florida and elsewhere.

“It is very, very unusual,” said Richard Gelles, the former dean of the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Policy and Practice, and a child welfare professor. “The indictment of professionals for failure to report almost never occurs. I may have heard of it once before in 40 years.”

The charges, Gelles said, suggest that grand jurors were particularly moved, or angered, by the circumstances of Tamiyah’s death. “To say they were probably pretty damn fed up would be mild,” Gelles said. “I think they were disgusted.”

Moye’s indictment was handed up Friday, the same day that a Seminole County caseworker, Jonathan, Irizarry, was charged by state police with falsifying records about visits to another child under the state’s care, 2-year-old Tariji Gordon. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement said Irizarry’s failure to monitor Tariji’s health and welfare might have led to her Feb. 6, 2014, death. Police say Tariji’s mother, Rachel Fryer, beat her to death.

Moye was fired by ChildNet on July 11, according to records obtained by the Miami Herald. A termination letter said only that “even with the support and coaching” of her supervisors, Moye’s work had not “improved enough to timely comply with the duties and responsibilities assigned in [her] job description.” Moye, the letter said, had failed to “adhere to our standards of excellence.”

A website operated by Gerena says that her practice, Gerena and Associates, offers mental health counseling and assessments under contract with several state agencies and their providers, including DCF, the Agency for Persons with Disabilities and ChildNet.

The stories of both Tamiyah and Tariji were featured in a Miami Herald series, Innocents Lost, that detailed the stories of 477 children from throughout Florida who died after DCF had made prior contact with the children’s families. The deaths — overwhelmingly involving infants, toddlers and other very young children — spiked around 2008 after DCF administrators embraced a rigid “family preservation” model while simultaneously reducing the supervision of troubled, drug-addicted and sometimes violent parents.

In particular danger, the newspaper reported, were children with complex medical needs and physical or intellectual disabilities. Children with physical impairments, a report said, are 17 times more likely to die from abuse or neglect in Florida than their typically developing peers. Among the Herald’s sample of 477 children, 85, or close to 20 percent, had suffered from some type of medical, physical or cognitive disability. Many, including Tamiyah, endured multiple impairments.

Ishoy said Tamiyah weighed only 56 pounds when Patterson, her caregiver, finally sought help. The girl’s body was marred by “extensive bed sores and bone-deep wounds” at death.

But even as Tamiyah shriveled away, records show, her ChildNet caseworker was recording regular visits to Patterson’s home, and reporting that Tamiyah was safe.

Patterson admitted to investigators that she had locked Tamiyah in her bedroom for hours, allowing the girl to emerge only at mealtime. Tamiyah also was being sedated with three separate tranquilizers to subdue her behavior — medication that left her so drowsy that, Moye wrote, the girl would slumber during the agency’s monthly visits.

During the state’s last visit with Tamiyah, a report said, the 12-year-old was “moaning” as she sat on the lap of her caregiver, and covered head-to-toe in clothing, possibly to cover the bedsores.