It is a sad day when we have to discuss the death of a precious child. I have listened and read comments from legislators, media outlets and members of the public regarding the death of Janiya Thomas and the abuse/neglect investigations involving her siblings. What concerns me is the lack of information that each has, yet many are quick with negative comments, wanting to point fingers and place blame.
There are thousands of pages of reports associated with these abuse/neglect investigations. I believe it is prudent for a complete and critical review of all information, prior to statements being made by those who may have read several redacted reports that have become public record.
On Sept. 23, 2015, the Bradenton Police Department responded to an allegation of abuse involving a 12-year-old male. The police department contacted the Child Protective Services (CPS) of the Manatee County Sheriff's Office and a Child Protective Investigator (CPI) responded and began an investigation. After interviews, the 12-year-old male was sheltered/removed. On Sept. 25, two additional children were sheltered/removed and the mother, Keishanna Thomas, was directed to produce the two remaining children. Thomas brought a 2-year2old child to CPS, but advised that the remaining child, Janiya, was with relatives in New Jersey. Investigators began a search for Janiya based on limited information received from the mother.
By Oct. 6, CPS determined that Janiya could not be located. A case conference was conducted on Oct. 14, where the mother again advised that Janiya was in New Jersey, this time with a friend of a friend. Keishanna Thomas would not provide any further information on Janiya's location.
On Oct. 15, Keishanna Thomas was served an injunction to appear in court, where the judge would require that Janiya be produced. During her appearance in court on Oct. 16, Thomas refused to identify the location of Janiya and was found in contempt, remanded to the county jail. Also on Oct. 16, Bradenton police were informed that Janiya should be listed as missing. Once that became public, family members located a body in a freezer that had recently been moved from Keishanna Thomas' home. The Medical Examiner's Office identified the remains found in the freezer as 11-year-old Janiya Thomas.
The Manatee County Sheriff's Office is one of only six sheriff's offices in Florida to contract with the Department of Children and Families (DCF) to provide child protective services. This contract was entered into in 1997, in an effort to have child protective investigators housed with law enforcement so that joint investigations could be conducted.
Here's what happens in our county when an allegation of abuse, neglect, abandonment and/or special conditions for a child is received. A Child Protective Investigator from the Child Protective Services of the Manatee County Sheriff's Office responds and conducts their investigation. This and subsequent investigations and services are mandated in Chapter 39 of the Florida State Statutes.
The CPI has a number of responsibilities, including but not limited to assessing danger threats, child vulnerabilities and caregiver protective capacities, in order to determine whether a child is safe or not safe. They complete risk assessments, formulate safety plans and recommend community services. In some cases, they conduct the sheltering/removal of children when child safety cannot be ensured.
When CPS recommends that a child or children be sheltered/removed, this information is reviewed by the Children Legal Services from DCF. A removal can take place immediately should probable cause exist that abuse and/ or neglect is present. Should this occur after business hours, the child or children are placed in a safe environment until the following morning, when a hearing is conducted with the court.
Next in the process is the Safe Children's Coalition (SCC), which DCF contracts with to provide case management, foster care, adoptions and other services. Once the court becomes involved by way of a shelter/removal of a child, or the caregiver agrees to Voluntary Protective Services (VPS), ongoing services are coordinated through a case manager from SCC.
The Child Protective Services of the MCSO is reviewing our role in these abuse and neglect cases associated with Keishanna Thomas, as is the Department of Children and Families. DCF had a Critical Incident Rapid Response Team on site just days after the body was found.
The men and women who work in the Child Protective Services, the Safe Children's Coalition and the Department of Children and Families are dedicated to ensuring the safety of our children. They are individuals who, while conducting these investigations, have to determine fact from fiction. They are human beings dealing with human beings. I can assure you that everyone associated with Janiya is mourning the loss of her life, and we will do everything within our power to bring justice for her and the system.