Ahziya Osceola's Patterns of Abuse Were Missed by State Child Protection Agencies, New Study Confirms
DCF’s Critical Incident Rapid Response Team report confirms state missed the signs of abuse.
The Florida Department of Children and Families has released a comprehensive report that found the state’s child protections agencies dropped the ball in catching what it calls a “long pattern of substance misuse, generalized neglect and physical injury” to Ahziya Osceola.
Following the tragic death of the 3-year-old in March, New Times published a report detailing the multiple incidents of bruises and suspicious injuries the boy suffered while in the care of his father, Nelson, and stepmother, Analiz.
As New Times pointed out in March, at least four incidents investigated by BSO's Child Protective Investigations Section were reported in the past three years, but each report of abuse was found as "unsubstantiated," which apparently warranted no further action.
DCF’s Critical Incident Rapid Response Team (CIRRT) report goes on to say that multiple agencies were in and out of Ahziya’s life, including ChildNet, which is the contracted Community Based Care lead agency (CBC) that provides ongoing case management for Broward County; the Office of the Attorney General, which provides Children’s Legal Services for the Department in Broward County; the Child Protection Team; and Seminole Family Services, the social services agency administered by the Seminole Tribe of Florida, of which Ahziya and several of his immediate and extended relatives are recognized members.
The abuse began at the hands of Ahziya’s biological mother, Karen Cypress, who, in 2014, was arrested for child neglect after she was found passed out in her hotel room with a bottle of vodka nearby. Ahizya, who was 2 years old at the time, was found wandering the lobby of the hotel by himself. This led to Ahziya’s father and stepmother being awarded custody. But things only got worse for the boy from there.
What followed was a year of multiple visits to the home by the child protection agencies after Cypress noticed bruises on the boy whenever he’d visit her from his father’s home.
But each time Nelson Osceola was interviewed about the bruises and injuries, he’d explain that the boy was just clumsy. The visiting agency would then report that physical mistreatment as unsubstantiated. One such report said: "At this time, the family has been seen. The home was observed to be adequate for the child as there was no hazard conditions observed.”
Tuesday’s DCF report said the agencies were insufficient in their assessments.
"There was insufficient assessment of Ahziya's safety while in his father's care," the DCF report says. "This included occurrences of new injuries being observed, a pattern of repeat injuries, and inconsistencies between parent/caregivers' statements regarding the origin of the injuries."
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The DCF report goes on to say that the agencies were too focused on Cypress’ issues that they failed to see Ahziya was in a dire situation at his father’s home as well.
"There was an over-emphasis on completion and progress of case plan goals related to Ahziya's mother, Karen Cypress, with no noted emphasis on ensuring Ahziya's safety, health and well-being while in the care of his father, Nelson Osceola,” the report says.
In March, Ahziya's body was discovered by Hollywood Police stuffed in garbage bags inside a box hidden in a laundry room. He had allegedly been hidden by Analiz, his stepmother. His body was covered in bruises and, according to the Broward County Medical Examiner, he had an untreated broken leg. The autopsy revealed that Ahziya had died from "blunt impact abdominal trauma causing a transacted pancreas and a lacerated liver."
On Wednesday, Analiz pleaded not guilty to aggravated-manslaughter charges and is being held on a $230,000 bond. Nelson Osceola, who has been charged with child neglect, has also pleaded not guilty.
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