Naika Venant, a 14-year-old foster child who hanged herself in a shower stall at her latest foster home and livestreamed it on Facebook Live, had reportedly suffered years of sexual abuse; was regularly beaten by her mother, whose love she desperately sought but who routinely rejected her; and was bounced around between homes before she brought her own life to an end.
On Monday the Florida Department of Children and Families released a 20-page report detailing Naika’s harrowing experiences before her death Jan. 22 and the department’s efforts to help the child. However, although the report concluded that state welfare authorities could have done a better job, it said that Naika’s relationship with her mother, Gina Alexis, played a significant role in her death, the Miami Herald reports.
“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 the agency’s Secretary Mike Carroll after the teen’s death in January. “Naika often told her therapist that she missed her mother greatly and really wanted to go back home.”
But home for Naika was not a safe place.
DCF was called to her mother’s home when Naika had just turned 4; there, it found that the child had been left with a male babysitter, who left her unattended with no food or running water. Her mother responded by enrolling Naika in day care and moving to a “new residence with no visible hazards.”
However, a year later, Naika was in the emergency room for an undisclosed chronic health condition. DCF was called in when Alexis “called Naika a liar and a faker, and threatened to send her back to Haiti so that her own life could be better,” the reported noted.
The agency once again offered day care, but Alexis reportedly “refused to accept any counseling services for herself” or her daughter.
Fast-forward to 2009. Alexis beat Naika with a belt after she had reportedly become sexually aggressive with another child, the report notes. Naika was beaten so severely that she had “more than 30 marks on her arms, legs and back.”
DCF removed Naika from her mother’s care and sought to learn where the then-6-year-old had learned about sex. Naika revealed in therapy that she had slept in the same room as her mother’s boyfriends and she watched “sex movies,” as she described them.
However, Naika was returned to her mother 17 months after the incident, even though she had told authorities that her mother continued to beat her during unsupervised visits. A month after she was returned to her mother, DCF got a report that Naika had been sexually abused while in foster care. The other child involved in the case denied it, saying that Naika was the aggressive one.
In 2014 Naika ran away, telling investigators that she “was afraid her mother was going to beat her again,” because her younger brother had been injured when Naika was babysitting. Alexis at that point refused to take back her daughter and even threatened to beat the then-11-year-old if she was left at the home. Naika was placed back in foster care for two months before a Miami judge ordered her returned to her mother, despite the objections of a caseworker and a court-ordered lay guardian.
About two years later, in 2016, Alexis returned her daughter back to the state of Florida, saying that she’d “had it” with the child’s behavior. Over the next several months, Naika changed homes about 14 times, “most of which resulted from behavioral disruptions.” Her constant movement made it difficult for mental-health professionals to give her meaningful care, the Herald notes.
In November it was recommended that Naika live in a specialized therapeutic foster home, where she would be able to receive the intensive care that she needed. However, there was no bed available and Naika was left in limbo.
In the report, DCF pointed fingers at the professionals who worked with Naika, blasting them for treating the symptoms of her trauma and abuse “rather than addressing the trauma itself”; for providing “fragmented” mental-health care, during which workers failed to communicate with one another; and for failing to address the toxicity of the girl’s relationship with her mother.
A lawyer representing her mother refuted the report’s findings, saying that the state bounced Naika between homes and shelters but never found her a place where she most needed to be: a therapeutic foster home.
But all of that doesn’t change the fact that Naika is gone and that she was failed on multiple levels, first by her mother and then by the state—regardless of who wants to point fingers at whom.
Naika’s choice to make her death public cannot be ignored. She was crying out for help, and she wanted her pain acknowledged and recognized. And she should have that pain acknowledged and recognized.
Children are often too easily overlooked because many are not valued for the individual human beings they are, with thoughts and feelings of their own. Children are also among our most vulnerable, often leading to their being taken advantage of, and African-American children are often victimized more than others.
The 2015 Child Maltreatment report (pdf), which is the most recently available data prepared by the Children’s Bureau of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on the subject, shows that African-American children had the highest rate of victimization at 14.5 per 1,000 children. The rate of African-American child fatalities (4.63 per 100,000 black children) is roughly 2.5 times greater than the rate of white children (1.86 per 100,000 white children), and 3.0 times greater than the rate of Hispanic children (1.50 per 100,000 Hispanic children).
It is so important that you say something if you see something. If you suspect that a child is being abused—whether by a biological parent, an adopted parent, a foster parent, or any other relative or friend—contact your local child-protective services and push them to do everything they can.
Naika couldn’t be saved. But there’s still hope for the next child.
Read more at the Miami Herald.