On Tuesday, a panel was appointed to review the Cuyahoga County Division of Children and Family Services’ handling of the Aniya Day-Garrett case, the four-year-old girl from Euclid who was allegedly murdered by her mother. While CFS’ critics believe the independent inquiry is a good first step, they also wonder why it has taken this long.
Among those cautiously optimistic about the independent panel are Sierra and Devinah Giles, family of 5-year-old Ta'Naejah McCloud. Ta'Naejah was another little girl who allegedly died at the hands of her mother.
In March 2017, 5-year-old Ta’Naejah died after her mother and mother’s girlfriend allegedly beat her. In the days and weeks that followed the girl’s death, it was revealed that county social workers had visited the home eight times in the five weeks before the girl died. Social workers also could not substantiate prior allegations of abuse during an investigation in late 2016.
Ta’Naejah’s case has some stark similarities to Aniya Day-Garrett's case.
On March 11, Aniya’s lifeless body was found by Euclid police inside her mother’s apartment. Two days later, Aniya’s mother, Sierra Day, and her mother’s boyfriend, Deonte Lewis, were both charged with aggravated murder. According to the medical examiner’s office, Aniya died of blunt force trauma to the head. She was also emaciated, officials said.
CCDCFS officials have previously stated there were three prior, closed investigations into suspected abuse or neglect in Aniya’s case. In each incident, officials said the agency did not have enough evidence to remove Aniya from the home.
On Tuesday, County Executive Armond Budish announced that he had appointed six child welfare experts to examine CFS’ handling of Aniya’s case.
“I’m happy that [Aniya’s] family is getting justice. I’m happy they’re finally making the efforts to do something, but then again, I’m disappointed,” said Sierra Giles. “It was more than one child, but several children that passed the same way, under the same circumstances.”
The appointment of the independent panel comes amidst calls from concerned community leaders for greater accountability at CFS. Some have called for a federal investigation of CFS’ policies and procedures.
“I applaud [the panel], but I can’t tip my hat off to you when you’re four children too late. I can’t tip my hat off to you when these case workers aren’t being investigated while the children are alive,” Devinah Giles said. “I feel like something needs to be done before our children get to the casket.”
A county spokeswoman said CFS is conducting its own internal investigation into the handling of Aniya’s case, which is standard protocol whenever a child with a history at the agency dies or is seriously injured. As part of the review, CFS officials said they will completely walk through every step of the case and every contact that was made.
The Giles believe the independent panel should have been constructed years ago.
“Now you guys want to do this? You want until the last minute after the ball has been dropped and now everyone wants to start a panel?” Sierra Giles said. “You should have already started that panel. Now it’s too little too late.”
A county spokeswoman said the panel was created to identify potential improvements at CFS, and examining Aniya’s death is one part of their effort. Upon completion of the review, the panel will author a report and make possible recommendations, the spokeswoman said.
“They go in the system where people are paid to protect them and they still die?” Sierra Giles said. “Something’s wrong.”