Friday, November 17, 2017
News Roundup

Mother may have seen daughter kill self on social media

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A Miami foster child who committed suicide live on social media may have been watched by her mother, according to a Florida Department of Children and Families report released Monday.

Naika Venant, a 14-year-old Miami girl, hanged herself on Jan. 22 and broadcast her death on Facebook Live. Her three-hour broadcast was watched by hundreds of people, some of whom pleaded with the girl to reconsider her decision.

But others urged her to take her life, calling her names and saying that the broadcast was fake.

That included a user called Gina Alexis, the name used by Naika's mother, Gina Caze, according to an abuse complaint reported to DCF on Feb. 9.

The user posted comments that could be considered "mentally injurious to her suicidal child" and did not seek help for her daughter, the report states. The following statement was posted by the user in the moments leading up to the death.

"#ADHD games played u sad little DCF custody jit that's why u where u at for this dumb s--t n more u keep crying wolf u dead u will get buried life goes on after a jit that doesn't listen to there parents trying to be grown seeking boys and girls attention instead of her books."

ADHD typically refers to Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Jit has many meanings, one of which is young gangster.

Howard Talenfeld, a Miami attorney representing Caze, said the abuse allegation listed in the DCF report was "absolutely false." He said his clients' comments were made after her daughter died and when she believed the suicide was fake.

"She unequivocally denies she was online while Naika was alive," he said.

Hundreds of people watched a Miami teen kill herself in a live stream.

Naika was in foster care for a total of 28 months over an eight-year period. During one 16-month period, she stayed in 14 different foster homes. Many of her relocations were the result of behavioral disruption.

She was not helped by a shortage of specialized therapeutic foster care and social workers who failed to address the unhealthy interactions between the girl and her mother, DCF investigators found.

"There is little we can say that adequately describes the sorrow we still feel today from the loss of Naika," said DCF Secretary Mike Carroll. "This is a child who endured great trauma in her life and despite many service interventions, we were not able to put the pieces back together to prevent her from taking her own life in such a public forum."

As a result of her death, Carroll has ordered the following changes

• A peer review team will review communication, information-sharing, and transparency in the child welfare system in Miami-Dade.

• DCF will develop and provide training on mental health for child protective investigators, case managers, and foster parents.

• DCF will work with care providers to ensure there are an adequate number of specialized therapeutic foster homes in the area.

Naika first went into foster care in January 2009 because of concerns about physical abuse by her mother, the DCF report states. She exhibited inappropriate sexual behavior and was referred for services through an organization that specializes in helping sexually abused children. She later disclosed in therapy that she had been exposed to pornographic videos and slept in the same room as her mother's boyfriends, the report states.

She was reunited with her mother in June 2010.

In April 2014, she was again taken into foster care but again returned to her mother by a court over the wishes of social workers and her Guardian ad Litem.

One year later, she was back in foster care after her mother relinquished custody, saying she no longer wanted the child.

In the days leading up to her death, the girl told her case manager how sad she was that her mother didn't want her back and that she would likely stay in foster care until she aged out, the report states.

Talenfeld, the mother's attorney, said she did not get the help she needed because the system of privatization failed Naika.

"Out of 14 placements,'' Talenfeld said, "not one was therapeutic."

Contact Christopher O'Donnell at codonnell@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3446. Follow @codonnell_Times.

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