Caseworkers: Pasco girl's death could not have been prevented

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Date: 2015-02-17

by Eric Glasser

New Port Richey, FL -- After combing through thousands of pages, caseworkers say it's a tragedy, but they don't think they could have predicted – or prevented – the death of 9-year-old Jenica Randazzo.

Deputies say the little girl and her grandmother were killed by 24-year-old Jason Rios, who was living in the same New Port Richey home.

Eckerd Community Alternatives, the agency handling the case, reviewed thousand of documents.

Executive Director Brian Bostick says based on their review, there's nothing the agency could have done differently to save Jenica.

"Indications are that we don't have any information that would say that we knew that this was going to happen or that we could've prevented this," said Bostick.

Jenica and her grandmother Angela were killed, say Pasco deputies, by Jason Rios, who was Jenica's uncle. He'd been living in the same New Port Richey home as Jenica and her three siblings.

Records show until Feb. 6, caseworkers considered Rios no threat. In fact, notes indicate he would act as a "big brother" - protecting the kids and watching them when their grandparents could not.

But deputies say Rios, suffering from schizophrenia, brutally attacked Angela, Jenica, and Jenica's sister.

Caseworkers say they were unaware of Rios's mental health issues. They say the family had failed to disclose it, and admit that as an agency it had failed to specifically inquire about mental illness in the home.

Asked if that should be something specifically asked about, Bostick answered: "I think you make a good point, and again, if there are any changes that need to be made we will make those changes."

Records show Jenica's grandparents were working toward permanently adopting her and her three siblings, but that caseworkers raised concerns about the couple's ability to handle four children.

One of Jenica's former foster parents, says in her opinion, the system did fail Jenica, and that the report exposes red flags aside from Rios.

"I feel like they weren't asking the right questions. They weren't doing the proper vetting," said former foster mother Ashley Rhodes-Courter. "And it seems like there was just a very blind push to have the children together in this situation against what many professionals had been saying was not a safe idea."

Gov. Rick Scott, asked about the Rios case, and the recent death of five-year-old Phoebe Johnchuck, whose father is accused of throwing her from a bridge, says the Department of Children and Families is already making changes.

"As you know, we have been increasing the number of child protective investigators, and we have put more money this year in the budget," said Scott. "We are adding rapid response teams. So we're going to do everything we can."

Officials with Eckerd say they are also working with DCF to see whether they need to implement any changes in policy.

In the meantime, the three surviving siblings have been placed with separate foster families. They are able to see each other two or three times a week, say caseworkers.

As for the grandfather, and his plan to legally adopt them, there has been no word yet on whether they plan to move forward.


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