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Final DCF report on Janiya Thomas investigation finds numerous organizational flaws

Janiya Thomas
Posted at 11:22 PM, Nov 24, 2015
and last updated 2015-11-24 23:22:00-05

MANATEE COUNTY, Fla. -- An investigation into Manatee County's handling of the Janiya Thomas case has concluded, and found significant issues with regards to investigation and case management practices.

11-year-old Janiya was found dead in October. Her body was found locked in a freezer that was left at a relative's house by her mother, Keishanna thomas.

Keishanna is charged with child abuse and abuse of a dead body, as the investigation into Janiya's death continues.

The new report confirms much of what many already assumed about the shortcomings in how the case was handled, but also raises additional questions surrounding child protective services.

Since 2000, the Department of Children & Families had opened eleven reports on Keishanna and her five children.

Child Protective Services from the Manatee County Sheriff's Office visited the home multiple times less than a month before Janiya's body was found, but failed to report the child missing.

"My first thought is, 'what happened? How did this get missed?'" says former DCF investigator Connie Valentino.

With more than eight years of experience investigating in Sarasota, Valentino immediately noticed issues with the handling of the Janiya Thomas case.

"I can't understand how they weren't aware the child was missing for a year," she says.

The 16-page report from the Critical Incident Rapid Response Team, or CIRRT, confirms five significant issues in the investigation of Janiya Thomas's well-being.

Among them, a failure to properly assess all the information gathered during dozens of investigations into Keishanna Thomas's household; confusion on who decides when a child should be removed, the investigator or legal services; and failure to report the child missing after multiple visits without ever observing Janiya in person.

"If the child is listed on a report, you have 24 hours to see that victim," says Valentino. "You don't see them the first day, you go back out the second day. You don't see them the second day, you keep going out until the child is located."

Some wondered if a high caseload might have led to Janiya and her siblings falling through the cracks. Earlier this year, DCF secretary Mike Carroll alluded to the stressful nature of the job.

"It is a very stressful work, the work hours are incredible," he told a house committee. "And you always work with a level of uncertainty."

However, the investigation found individual caseloads at the MCSO and Safe Children's Coalition to be manageable, even below average during the months investigators were looking into the Thomas home.

Valentino sees big changes coming for the state, and possibly county, as a result of this report and the heartbreaking case of Janiya Thomas.

What changes? Only time will tell.

"It has to be something that's going to be enforced," says Valentino. "But there's so much work that needs to be done."

MCSO issued a statement saying they have conducted an internal investigation of their own that has been forwarded to their Professional Standards Unit. They are withholding any further comment until that review is concluded.

A copy of the full DCF report can be found HERE.