FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) – Florida child welfare officials says investigators failed to see or fix a “pattern of repeat injuries” suffered by a 3-year-old before his badly bruised body was found hidden in a box under a pile of clothes, according to a report released late Wednesday.
Ahziya Osceola was being monitored by the Broward Sheriff’s Office, the Seminole Tribe and ChildNet, a privately run agency that handles foster care for the state. Investigators found that while all noticed the boy’s bruises and injuries at different times, they failed to talk with each other or determine that the toddler was in danger, despite obvious warning signs and multiple calls to the child abuse hotline.
“There was a generalized failure to first recognize then fully assess an emerging and worsening pattern of insufficiently explained physical injuries to Ahziya,” according to a report released by the Department of Children and Families.
The boy was found dead in his Hollywood home March 19, with significant injuries to his pancreas and liver, police said. He was found in two plastic bags hidden in a box in the laundry room, days after his stepmother told police he was missing. Analiz Osceola is charged with aggravated manslaughter, child neglect and lying to police. The boy’s father, Nelson Osceola, was charged with child neglect.
Authorities said Ahziya suffered significant physical abuse during his short life. The investigation “revealed a several years’ long pattern of substance misuse, generalized neglect and physical injuries to Ahziya.”
Child welfare officials removed him from his mother’s home after she was arrested on child neglect charges last year. A DCF report says the child was found wandering a hotel alone while his mother was passed out drunk.
But even in his father’ care, he continued to have mysterious bruises and injuries and the report criticized the agencies for placing the primary focus on whether the child’s mother was getting treatment and completing her court ordered steps to get the boy back “rather than Ahziya’s safety and well-being while in his father’s and (eventually) stepmother’s care.”
Child welfare officials had been warned several times of potential abuse involving the boy, including twice last year. Yet despite compelling evidence, the report says investigators relied on his caregivers’ statement instead of conflicting statement from teachers and others.
Someone called the child abuse hotline in December concerned that Ahizya had bumps and bruises and was complaining of a sore bottom. He was examined, but a doctor couldn’t determine whether his bruised rectum was from constipation or sexual abuse, according to a previous DCF report.
An earlier report about the boy’s bruises came in April, but Nelson Osceola told Broward Sheriff’s Office child protective investigators the child was prone to falls and walking into tables.
Bruises to Ahizya’s forehead, neck and jaw “were positive for physical abuse,” according to the April report, which also detailed significant cuts on the child. Both cases were ultimately closed and investigators did nothing.
The agency has come under scrutiny in recent years after a spate of gruesome deaths of children who were at one point involved with the agency before or during their death. Similar reports criticized DCF for missing obvious warning signs, leaving children in harm’s way and failing to work with the courts, therapists and schools to get a full picture.