DCF says Seminole Tribe was also aware of dead boy's history of abuse
After Ahziya's tragic death, lawmakers want Seminole Tribe of Florida to help prevent the death of child victims' of abuse, neglect
MIAMI – Three-year-old Ahziya was already in pain from an untreated broken leg when he was hit in the abdomen and died in Hollywood, the Broward Medical Examiner said. Both of his parents and his extended family had substance abuse issues.
His step-mom, Analiz Osceola, who had a history of abusing her child, used trash bags to cover her step-son's body, placed him in a box behind a washer in a laundry room and reported him missing, police said. The boy also had bruises all over his body, the autopsy report said.
The Florida Department of Children and Families and Broward Sheriff's Office was aware that the boy had been abused and neglected. As DCF Secretary Mike Carroll talked about Ahziya's case during a hearing Thursday, he said social workers sometimes don't have time to connect the dots and interventions have to get better.
"There were signs that this child may have been physically abused," Carroll said in front of Florida lawmakers, as he referred to the ongoing investigation, which he said would likely be done this month. "It wasn't clear who or to what extent ... we just didn't close the loop."
Carroll also said that there was a need for specific guidelines around information sharing with the Seminole Tribe of Florida's social services. Chair of the Committee on Children, Families and Elder Affairs, Sen. Eleanor Sobel, of Hollywood, said the purpose of the hearing in Tallahassee was to look for solutions.
She also said that the Seminole Tribe of Florida and Broward Sheriff's Office should have sent a representative to testify, because the hearing was not about the criminal investigation.
"While I appreciate the need to respect the sovereignty of the Indian nation, in these cases, the best interests, well-being and safety of the children should be the foremost concern of both parties involved," Carroll said.
WATCH VIDEO: Florida Senate's record of the meeting (01:39:00)
Ahziya's mom Karen Cypress "has three other children by three different men," Carroll said. The first call DCF got on Ahziya came August 2013 and there were several others during 2014 until she lost custody, Carroll said.
In Broward County, DCF's Florida abuse hotline staff refers investigations to BSO's Child Protective Investigation division, Carroll said. Broward County court and The Seminole's family services were also overseeing Ahziya's case.
Since child welfare services are privatized, ChildNet, a private non-profit entity, was involved in Ahziya's case after court mandate until September 2014.
Emilio Benitez is the president of ChildNet, which helps DCF with "community based care" in both Broward and Palm Beach Counties. He said during the hearing that from every tragedy "we learn something" that makes the system better. Sen. Thad Altman agreed.
"Every partner has a share and has a responsibility in ensuring that the investigation is done," Benitez said. He also said "the court is an intricate part of that."
Ahziya's death is one of many that have occurred under DCF's supervision this year. The committee's goal is to find out what went wrong and recommend ways for corrections, Sobel said.
"A new era of child protection has begun," Sobel said early last year, in a move to "overhaul" the child welfare system in Florida.
Since her remarks, there have been more deaths of children with a history of abuse. Earlier this year, there was the death of 5-year-old Phoebe, after her abusive dad threw her over a bridge in St. Petersburg, police said.
ON THE WEB: A Miami Herald investigation team project known as The "Innocents Lost" by veteran reporters Carol Marbin Miller and Audra D.S. Burch prompted an outrage. The project's database is titled "534 children who will never grow up."
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News Service of Florida's Tom Urban contributed to this report.
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