CORAL SPRINGS (CBS4) – The family of a 4-year old boy who was found dead in his mother’s Coral Springs apartment wants answers from the Department of Children and Families.
Four year old Antwan Hope was discovered Monday after police received several 911 calls from inside the apartment.
“I was working and I can say on some of the calls she did not speak and hung up. We were able to track the calls and that’s when we found the four-year old deceased,” said Lt. Joe McHugh of the Coral Springs Police Department.
His mother, 23-year old Destene Simmons, was arrested Monday and charged with driving with a suspended license. She appeared in bond court Tuesday morning and was given a $500 bond on the suspended license charge.
Simmons had a history with the Department of Children and Families stemming from an incident a year ago after she reportedly took the child to a motel and tried to smother him with a pillow.
“DCF, Child Protective Services came and took my son. My son from his momma,” said the boy’s father Antwan Hope said. “I would have never thought this girl would have been like this towards him.”
According to CBS4’s news partner The Miami Herald, Simmons was committed under Florida’s involuntary commitment law, the Baker Act, to a local psychiatric hospital, and the boy was placed in foster care, and then in the home of a maternal aunt.
DCF was eager to return the boy to his mother’s custody. The boy’s guardian-ad-litem argued against it. In the end, Broward Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer agreed with DCF and allowed Simmons to have unsupervised visits with her son in preparation for full-time custody.
“I don’t know when there have been so many deaths,” says longtime child advocate and Florida’s Children First President Howard Talenfeld. “I’m concerned ChildNet which is the contracted foster care agency in Broward County is ignoring warning signs and red flags. The biggest red flag is that she tried to smother her child. That makes this a high risk case from day one. You know the mother is mentally ill.”
“The mother was granted court ordered unsupervised overnight visits in February of 2013. A case manager visited with the mother and child on Friday at the home and found the child to be happy and excited for the visit,” according to a statement from Elizabeth Wynter with ChildNet, a private Broward foster care agency which handle Hope’s care while he was in DCF custody.
But Howard Talenfeld says the Department of Children and Families which has oversight of ChildNet, shares some responsibility for what happened.
“Two years ago they eliminated their quality assurance unit. That’s means we have no data on what’s happening in our child protection system. There has to be an outside independent review.”
Talenfeld who is an attorney recently won a $2 million settlement from ChildNet for a similar situation where children were reunified with their mother after cries they were being abused.
Despite the warning, they were reunified with their mother with dire consequences, says Talenfeld.
Hope said little Antwan was with his mother during an unsupervised visit when he died.
“Why would you give a child back to someone who is harming a kid,” said the child’s aunt Deborah Jackson. “We’re trying to reduce child abuse, not increase it.”
Jackson said she would like to see all DCF cases looked at “with a magnifying glass.”
But Antwan Hope is not so quick to point a finger at the agency.
“I’m angry with his mom,” Hope explained. “We should have took every option there was to do what we had to do as parents.”
“I don’t blame nobody else. Nobody else,” he stressed. “Guess what? If she would have protected him, or loved him, they would have never picked him up. He would have never been in DCF hands.”
Just days after watching his son walk across the stage at his pre-school graduation, Hope is now worrying about funeral arrangements.
Investigators are waiting on autopsy report which will determine if there was foul play involved in the boy’s death. If the medical examiner’s report indicates obvious signs of trauma, the police would immediately launch a homicide investigation and obtain a search warrant for Simmons’ apartment.
Tuesday evening, Simmons was released from jail around 6 p.m. after posting bail, according to corrections officials. She was then taken into custody under the Baker Act and taken to a hospital.
CBS 4 News reached out to DCF for comment. We were told the agency did not have enough information to determine whether the boy’s death was a result of neglect or abuse.
Under Florida law, DCF said it cannot release records during an open police investigation, according to a spokesperson.
CBS4 news partner The Miami Herald contributed to this report.