a Broward court judge blasted the Department of Children and Families and its contracted ‘foster care’ operator ChildNet for not doing enough to protect that four year old child who died June 10.
Coral Springs police called the death of four year old Antwan Hope, Jr., suspicious after he was found in his mother’s apartment late Monday morning. The child was there on a weekend unsupervised visit in preparation for permanent reunification with his mother who had lost custody a year and a half ago.
The child’s mother, Destene Simmons has a history of mental illness. Her family maintains she had ‘nothing’ to do with the death. But On Friday, Dependency court judge Elizabeth Scherer told DCF, “The court gave very clear instructions both orally and by written order that the child was not to spend unsupervised visits with his mother until a home study was filed with the court and approved by the Guardian Ad Litem program,”
Scherer said she did not receive the home study report in her office until Tuesday, after the child had died.
“Neither this court nor the guardian ad litem program were provided with a home study until June 11, 2013,” said Scherer.
The first issue is the Department is in violation of this court’s order and I want to know who made that decision,” the judge asked representatives from the Florida Attorney General’s office and several employees of ChildNet.
ChildNet’s attorney told the judge that a home study had been done before the child went for the visit but it was an oversight that no copy was provided to the judge earlier.
But Scherer’s criticism didn’t stop there.
“Who signed off on a home study for a mother who had an outstanding criminal warrant and could have been picked up at any time while she was with her child?” Scherer asked.
She was referring to Simmons driving on a suspended license.
Simmons was arrested on that charge and spent the night in jail. But just as she posted bond, she was baker acted and sent to a mental health facility for an evaluation.
It’s the third time she has been hospitalized in two years. Back in 2011 Simmons was Baker Acted twice after she tried to smother her child with a pillow on two separate occasions.
But ChildNet says Simmons had turned her life around and was meeting all the objectives the court had set for her to regain custody of her child.
“the mother was complying with all tasks prior to this. There is a real bond between her and that child,” said Beatrice Ford with ChildNet.
“I’m at a loss why it took four months to complete a home study,” said Judge Scherer clearly exasperated.
Scherer said that while Simmons had exhibited model behavior back in February, things had changed over the past few months. “The mother had violated court orders. She had been picking up her child without permission, she was missing therapy sessions and she had failed to meet with the Guardian Ad Litem,” said Scherer. ‘If all of this had been brought to my attention the visit would have never happened.”
The medical examiner has yet to determine an exact cause of death. But Scherer says whether the child died of natural causes or the death was intentional, the four year old should not have been on an unsupervised overnight visit without the court’s permission.During the hearing the father of the child and the child’s paternal grandmother tearfully told the judge that they were being left out of the funeral process.
“I can never get him back. That playful little boy. I knew him before you knew him,” said Antwan Hope, Senior. His mother put the blame squarely on Destene Simmons. “I’m not going to sugarcoat this. My grandson is not here been cause she tried to smother him twice,” said Sharon Walker.
Judge Scherer then said she wanted to help the father and ordered an afternoon hearing.
While Simmons family had wanted to hold the funeral this weekend, Antwan Hope, Senior said that was ‘too soon,’ because he wanted his daughter who lives out of town to be able to travel to South Florida and attend the service.
Scherer then ordered that Antwan Hope Senior and the maternal aunt who was the caretaker of the four year old share the decision for the funeral service.
“This is not about me. It’s about doing what’s right for that little boy,” said Sharron Williams who has been caring for little AJ since his mother lost custody.