It’s becoming an all too common refrain in Florida. Gabriel Myers, Tamiya Audain, Antwone Hope and Now Ahzia Osceola slipped through the cracks of Broward’s Child welfare system and died. A child dies or suffers serious child abuse, sexual abuse or neglect at the hands of his parents, guardians or caregivers. Once the Department of Children and Families launches its investigation, it’s discovered that the child was known to be at risk by ChildNet, Broward child investigators, and many others, but little to nothing was done to protect the child.
This sad refrain has come true again in the case of 3-year-old Ahziya Osceola. Though abuse investigators with the Broward Sheriff’s Office saw the signs of repeated abuse – bumps, bruises, fingerprints, scratches and abrasions on little Ahziya’s body – they failed to act or even acknowledge the “a pattern of repeat injuries” outlined in a report released this week by the Department of Children and Families.
Experts skilled in spotting child abuse reported twice that Ahziya was being injured, and CHildNet had regular “drive-by” visits with little substance. Yet, the Sheriff’s Office failed to act and left him with the abusers, according to the DCF report.
Ahziya died of his injuries, and his body was hidden in his Hollywood home. Stepmother Analiz Osceola, who had reported the child missing in an attempt to hide his death, remains jailed on charges of aggravated manslaughter.
The true horror of Ahziya’s story is that his tale is nothing new. The first report of abuse came in 2013. The fourth and final report came this year. He was known to be at-risk. He was left vulnerable to his abusers.
Whether at the city, county or state level, all too often those charged with protecting children overlook or ignore signs of abuse. Children die or are injured. Then officials who descend upon the case to “investigate” find signs of abuse overlooked.
The media covers the story. Those involved promise to fix the problems, whether specific to the individual case or the larger failings that seem to permeate child protective services statewide.
At the state level, new funding was found to hire more child investigators and create the child abuse hotline. DCF created a special unit to investigate these cases. Officials praise their own efforts.
Yet, Ahziya Osceola is gone having been yet another child who has slipped through the cracks of our privatized child welfare system.
When will the day come that this sad refrain will cease to happen, when at-risk children will be placed in safer surroundings, and we no longer will read about investigations botched or signs ignored? For now, we can only hope – and worry when the next case of abuse of an at-risk child will come.