Child protection investigators “bullied” by dead girl’s mother

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MANATEE COUNTY, FL (WFLA) -Child protection investigators with the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office claim they felt “bullied, intimidated and physically threatened” by Keishanna Thomas.

Courtesy of WFLA

Thomas is sitting in the Manatee county jail facing a child abuse charge.  Meanwhile, detectives are still trying to learn how and why 9-year-old Janiya Thomas ended up dead in a padlocked freezer.

Her body was discovered in October.  Her siblings claim Janiya was missing for a year.  Keishanna Thomas has a long history with the state.  The court ordered services in 2004 following a physical abuse allegation.  At that time, she was a 19-year-old with three children under the age of 5.

In 2005, she gave birth to her fourth.  A Critical Incident Rapid Response Team report issued Tuesday by the Department of Children and Families points out abuse investigators were fearful of Thomas.  Manatee County Sheriff’s Office investigators interviewed by DCF stated they found Thomas  “difficult” “could not be engaged” and they felt “bullied, intimidated and physically threatened” by her.   Yet in 2014 when Keishanna Thomas told her case manager that she did not want to participate in voluntary protective services, child welfare professionals held a meeting and closed the case.READ ALL CASE FILES in the JANIYA THOMAS CASE HERE

DCF pays the Sarasota Safe Children Coalition about $21 million dollars a year to provide services and oversee cases like this.  The Safe Children Coalition pays Youth and Family Alternatives about $2.9 million to provide case managers in Sarasota and Manatee.  A review of case managers’ reports raises questions.  In May 2014, one case manager noted Janiya said she attended Sea Breeze elementary school.

A month before, her mother told another case manager that Janiya was home schooled. Did anyone at Youth and Family Alternatives compare notes?

We went to Youth and Family Alternatives to ask them about their role in the Janiya Thomas case.  Chief Operating Officer John Luff wouldn’t speak to us until we removed the camera from the building.  He later sent an email stating,”We are deeply saddened over the death of Janiya.  We work extremely hard to keep all the children in our communities safe.”

With regard to the case notes, Luff added, “”the case notes were written based off the child’s statement and these statements were taken 2 months apart.”

DCF also found investigations involving this family were prematurely closed, the extent of violence in the family was not factored into safety assessments and that failure to properly assess led to ill-informed decision making.

“Like everyone else in our community, the Safe Children Coalition is tremendously saddened by the death of Janiya Thomas.  This was a tragic end of a difficult young life,” Safe Children Coalition Vice President Brena Slater wrote in an email.   Slater added that the Safe Children Coalition is dedicated to serving and helping protect children and families. Since Janiya’s loss we have conferenced at length to formulate procedures …that help prevent future tragedies like this.”

Among the changes, improvements in escalation policies of non-judicial cases, better case coordination and review by all agencies involved.READ FULL STATE REPORT HERECopyright 2015 WFLA. All rights reserved.

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