A 14-year-old foster child who hanged herself in a shower stall and broadcast it on Facebook suffered years of sexual abuse, was beaten and rejected by her mother and bounced between more than 14 foster homes, according to a 20-page report released by the Florida Department of Children & Families.
The report released late Monday concluded that while state welfare authorities could have done a better job, Naika Venant’s relationship with her mother Gina Alexis played a significant role in her death.
“Despite everything that had occurred between Naika and her mother, Naika longed to be home,” said the report, written by members of a Critical Incident Rapid Response Team that was deployed by agency Secretary Mike Carroll after the child’s death in January. “Naika often told her therapist that she greatly missed her mother and really wanted to go back home.”
The report detailed the abuse. When Naika was 4, the agency was called to her mother’s home after the girl was left unattended by a male babysitter, with no food or running water. Alexis enrolled the girl in day care and moved to another home.
The next year, the report said, Naika went to the emergency room with an undisclosed chronic health condition. The child welfare agency was contacted when Alexis “called Naika a liar and a faker.”
Naika used a scarf to hang herself in a Miami Gardens foster home on Jan. 22 and livestreamed it on Facebook.
In 2009, the report says Alexis beat Naika with a belt after the girl was sexually aggressive with another child. She was removed from her mother’s home. Caseworkers sought to learn where the 6-year-old girl had learned about sex. She told therapists she slept in the room with her mother’s boyfriends and watched “sex movies.”
The next year, after she was returned to her mother, DCF received a report that the girl was sexually abused while in foster care. The other child vehemently denied it, saying Naika was the aggressive one.
According to the report, Naika ran away in 2014, telling investigators she was afraid her mother would beat her. Alexis refused to take Naika back, threatening to beat the then 11-year-old child if she was left there. Two months later, a Miami judge – over the objection of caseworkers and a court-ordered lay guardian – returned Naika to her mother.
In April 2016, Alexis returned Naika to the state, saying she’d had it with her “behavior.”
Last November professionals recommended that Naika live in a “specialized therapeutic foster home.” But no bed was available.
In the report, the DCF team faulted the mental health professionals who worked with Naika for treating the symptoms of her trauma and abuse “rather than addressing the trauma itself” and for failing to address the toxicity of the girl’s relationship with her mother.
Alexis’ attorney Howard Talenfeld disputed the findings, telling the Miami Herald the report relies on inaccurate information and “is an apparent whitewash of the systemic failures.”