Department of Children and Families officials have a blunt assessment of the child welfare system in the case of an 11-year-old Manatee County girl whose body was found in a freezer:
The system failed Janiya Thomas, according to a state review of the girl’s death.
DCF released a Critical Incident Rapid Response Team report and started an investigation after the girl’s body was found in a freezer last month. The Manatee County Sheriff’s Office Child Protective Investigators Division and the network of community agencies that assist them are the main focus.
Janiya’s body was found Oct. 18 in a cardboard box inside a padlocked freezer at her grandmother’s Bradenton home.
The discovery came days after Janiya was reported missing and a year after the girl had last been seen.
The voluminous amount of paperwork revealed there had been a history of violence involving Janiya’s mother, Keishanna Thomas, and her five children.
Among the discoveries:
- Investigations into Janiya’s whereabouts were closed prematurely.
- There was an alarming lack of critical assessment during case investigations – especially into the environment in the Thomas household.
- Janiya wasn’t reported missing until a month after her mother couldn’t produce her for officials.
The report also shows investigators asked Thomas on four occasions where Janiya was beginning in September. Each time, she lied or ignored them. Even with that uncertainty and no trace of Janiya, the Manatee County sheriff’s investigator still closed the case.
Thomas was arrested on Oct. 16. She is being held on aggravated child abuse charges along with abuse of a dead body charges. Her bonds total $200,000.
The investigation into specifically how Janiya died is ongoing.
This case alerted the special response team to also take a closer look into all of the Manatee County child welfare cases. And because of the failures in Janiya’s case, the agencies have agreed on some immediate procedural changes.
Children who live in a home under investigation must be included in that investigation, a new rule states. And proper documentation of a child’s whereabouts must be provided, along with more attention to cases with multiple priors to check for patterns of abuse.
"The findings in the CIRRT report outline specific areas for improvement in the child welfare system," DCF Secretary Mike Carroll said in a statement. "We are committed to working with our partners at the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office and the Sarasota Family YMCA to rapidly address the findings in the report, and their coordination with Children’s Legal Services, to better protect vulnerable children."