A preliminary hearing was held Thursday in the case of Naika Venant, the 14-year-old girl who broadcast her suicide on Facebook Live from her Miami Gardens foster home earlier this year. It was the second suicide of a teenager in foster care overseen by the agency Our Kids in less than 60 days. In December, 16-year-old Lauryn Martin hanged herself with a scarf in her room at the Florida Keys Children's Shelter on Plantation Key.
Howard Talenfeld, a lawyer representing Naika Venant's biological family, says it’s just the latest evidence that the state’s move to privatize foster care isn’t working.
"It’s the Department of Children and Families that gives the job to a contractor like Our Kids, and they contract out with case management agencies," he says. "We’re seeing kids that just aren’t in the right kinds of placements, don’t receive the right kinds of services. In her case, she wasn’t supposed to be anywhere near the internet."
Talenfeld says it’s too early to say what legal remedies the family might pursue to avoid another death like Naika’s.
"We’re trying to get at the truth. Until we know what the truth is, we couldn’t even begin to try to determine what’s appropriate," he says. Talenfeld says it’s been 40 days since his firm requested relevant records from DCF and Our Kids, and it hasn't gotten anything yet.
"We’re hopeful that this kind of information becomes available very soon so that the Florida Legislature can hear more than the fact that ‘this kid was just a kid we couldn’t help.’ "
Representatives of DCF and Our Kids did not respond immediately to requests for comment.