Florida Department of Children and Families Announces Thorough Review of Child Deaths

The agency will review all 2013 child deaths related to abuse or neglect where there was a prior involvement with the state

There have been 12 verified deaths due to abuse or neglect in 2013, according to the Florida Department of Children and Families. The agency says in order to do the most thorough review possible it will be looking into far more than just the verified cases to identify ways to prevent future tragedies.

Two-year-old Jayden Villegas Morales of Homestead is the latest child death where the family has a history with DCF.

His father, now charged with second-degree murder, is a former foster child who was removed from his own mother's custody in 1999.

That's according to DCF records that frequently mention Jayden's family receiving services from Project SOS, an initiative with the Homestead Police Department offering social services for domestic violence, child abuse and neglect.

Project SOS Executive Director Sandra Nanni could not comment on whether DCF informed them Jayden and his siblings were being removed from their mother and placed with their father in June. Jayden died a month later.

Records show there were serious concerns about the Villegas Morales children for more than two years.

"No matter how hard we try and no matter how many services we provide to a family sometimes the intervention is not enough," Nanni said. She was speaking in general about the 1,800 families served each year by Project SOS.

Could more have been done to prevent the deaths of Jayden, Antwon Hope, Ezra Raphael, Bryan Osceola, and Dontrell Melvin?

DCF Interim Secretary Esther Jacobo sent a letter announcing more than a review of all 2013 child deaths related to abuse or neglect where there was a prior involvement with the state.

Jacobo also stated all DCF districts should explore partnering with law enforcement.

In Broward County child protective investigations are overseen by the Broward Sheriff's Office. That's not the way it's done right now in Miami-Dade County.

DCF also announced a new agreement with the Children's Research Center (CRC), which provides a tool that helps predict a family's risk of future problems.

In November CRC backed out of working with the state in a letter, expressing concerns that DCF had made changes to its child safety tool that could have a negative impact.

These changes were announced on the day the viewing was being held for 2-year-old Jayden at a Homestead funeral home. He will be buried Saturday.

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