Broward County

As Broward child wasted away, protectors looked but didn’t see

Tamiyah Audain
Tamiyah Audain

For about nine months, foster care caseworkers and their bosses made 13 visits to the Lauderhill home of Tamiyah Audain, held 30-minute meetings, conferred with other social service workers and filed numerous reports, all of which documented the preteen was in good health. She was actually losing half her body weight and slowly filling with poisons.

Tamiyah’s death on Sept. 25, 2013, while under the care of Florida’s foster care system, likely was the result of severe malnutrition and systemic infection, an autopsy said. But, in a deeper sense, a review of the girl’s death said, Tamiyah succumbed to the failure of Broward child welfare administrators to overcome “obstacles and bureaucratic snafus.”

“Although many people were involved in her case,” the report said, “Tamiyah did not have anyone putting all of the important bits of information together to advocate on her behalf.”

Tamiyah’s death, the Child Welfare League of America wrote in a 23-page report released this week, was the tragic end to a lengthy period in which state child welfare and healthcare administrators violated her basic human rights.

“Tamiyah’s rights were not upheld,” the report concluded. “She was not protected from harm, and did not receive medical care, educational services, behavioral health, or other services appropriate to meet her needs.”

So great was the state’s failure to protect Tamiyah, prosecutors said, that the girl’s state-approved caregiver, Latoya Patterson, was indicted for murder last August, while her foster care caseworker, Jabeth Moye, was charged with child neglect causing great bodily harm. Charges against two psychologists who evaluated the girl later were dropped.

ChildNet, a privately run foster care and adoption agency that contracts with the Department of Children & Families in Broward County, sought the welfare league’s help in identifying missteps by its caseworkers and administrators that preceded Tamiyah’s death. The 12-year-old was found lying in her bed, in a home police described as “deplorable.” Her emaciated body was covered in “marks, scars and what appeared to be bedsores” — one of which was so deep the bone was visible.

Through a spokeswoman, ChildNet administrators said that, in the wake of Tamiyah’s death, the agency has “implemented systemic changes and will continue to look for opportunities to improve the care of abused, abandoned, and neglected children in the communities we serve.”

“The death of any child is a tragedy whether they are involved in the child welfare system or not, and we continue to grieve the loss of a child like Tamiyah. We take the immense responsibility of protecting Florida’s most vulnerable children extremely seriously,” the agency said.

“After this critical incident, we not only completed a thorough internal review and underwent a DCF review with Children’s Medical Services, Guardian Ad Litem, Broward Sheriff’s Office Child Protection Investigative Section, and the Child Protection Team, but we also sought third-party experts … to complete an external review to improve Broward’s child welfare system,” ChildNet added.

Tamiyah is among at least 525 Florida youngsters who died of abuse or neglect after state child welfare authorities had received at least one abuse or neglect report on the family. Her story was detailed extensively in a continuing Miami Herald series, Innocents Lost, that documented the consequences of a dramatic shift in state policy that emphasized the preservation of families — even at a time of shrinking services — sometimes to the detriment of children’s rights and welfare.

As Florida was moving toward greater family preservation, The Child Welfare League, an association of public and private child protection groups, was tilting in the other direction. In April 2013, the CWLA published what it called the National Blueprint for Excellence in Child Welfare, a “framework” for prioritizing the rights of children. Tamiyah’s life, and death, were reviewed against that backdrop in the group’s report.

Tamiyah was born on Sept. 8, 2001. Like her mother, she was diagnosed with tuberous sclerosis, a devastating disease that causes tumors to grow in the brain and other vital organs. The Broward County girl also was diagnosed with autism. Tamiyah could not take care of herself, and had been completely dependent on caregivers since birth for basic needs.

Tamiyah’s father was essentially absent. And her mother died in September 2012 from the disease that consumed both her children. At first, Tamiyah’s maternal grandparents tried to render care as best they could, but authorities eventually concluded they were unable to perform all the tasks that were necessary. Two relatives were recruited: an aunt in Kentucky who worked with disabled children for a living, and a young cousin in Lauderhill.

For the next several months, DCF and ChildNet failed to complete the paperwork that would have ensured Tamiyah went to live with her aunt, who was considered a better choice for guardian. And, as the months dragged on, it became increasingly clear that her cousin was overwhelmed with care-giving responsibilities. She had asked ChildNet and other groups for help with child care or respite care. None came.

If the Broward schools were to serve as a safety net, Tamiyah would have to attend in order to be monitored. During the 2012-2013 school year, Tamiyah missed 110 of 180 school days. A truancy intervention meeting was scheduled for that February, and then canceled. The next school year, Tamiyah did not attend at all. “Schools can play a critical role in child protection by providing eyes on a child and family,” the report said. “It is imperative for children at highest risk to have educational services.”

Nor were Tamiyah’s healthcare providers ensuring she received proper care. Earlier in her childhood, the CWLA wrote, Tamiyah was under the care of tuberous sclerosis specialists at Miami Children’s Hospital. But “there is no evidence that efforts were made to have her seen by a specialist once she came into [foster] care,” the report said. The state Department of Health’s Children’s Medical Services did not provide “sufficient follow through in obtaining, monitoring and sustaining needed services.”

Staff meetings among caseworkers and their bosses to review Tamiyah’s welfare typically lasted a half-hour, the professional group wrote, adding “it is not possible to review adequately a complex case such as Tamiyah’s in 30 minutes.” And check-box forms caseworkers used when they visited Tamiyah often were left blank — or contained erroneous information — because the forms “do not capture the needs of a child such as Tamiyah.”

The CWLA also chided Tamiyah’s caregiver and caseworkers for failing to ensure that the girl’s emotional needs were met, as well. “That she could not express herself verbally does not mean she did not have emotions to express,” the report said. “Almost certainly, Tamiyah felt grief and loss when her mother died, and again when she was moved from her grandparents’ home and separated from her half-brother.

“There is no evidence that Tamiyah’s loss and grief were identified or that [Patterson] was assisted in dealing with the extraordinary challenge of caring for a non-verbal child with deep need for expression.”

Supervisors measured “compliance with documentation requirements and timeframes,” the CWLA wrote, rather than whether Tamiyah was really being helped.

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