Seven-month-old Tampa girl dies while in state care

Eckerd Kids placed the baby with a friend of her mother after the mother's arrest.
Published July 22 2016
Updated July 23 2016

TAMPA — A 7-month-old baby girl in the care of the state died this week after she slept next to a 10-year-old child on a couch.

Her name was Miracle.

Miracle Collins was taken into care in February when her mother was arrested in her east Tampa home after a report of domestic violence, a Tampa Police Department report states.

The child was placed with a friend of her mother's by Florida Department of Children and Families contractor Eckerd Kids.

But Tampa Fire Rescue was called to the child's temporary home Tuesday after the 10-year-old woke to find the baby unresponsive. Paramedics tried to revive the infant but were unsuccessful.

DCF has assigned a critical incident team to investigate the death, a step mandated by state law whenever a child dies while under the state's watch.

Officials from Eckerd declined to comment on specifics of the case while the investigation is ongoing.

"Losing a baby to co-sleeping is heartbreaking," said Terri Durdeller, an Eckerd spokeswoman. "An unsafe sleep environment is one of the leading causes of preventable child deaths across the country, and Eckerd Kids has always made it a priority to educate families and children in our care on how to avoid this tragedy."

Miracle's mother, Rolanda Angelique Cusseaux, 35, was arrested Feb. 15 by Tampa police officers in the 2000 block of 25th Avenue E on a domestic battery charge.

She had been fighting with her boyfriend, Mederick Collins, identified as Miracle's father in the report.

Police handcuffed and arrested Cusseaux after she shoved Collins in their presence. An investigation of Collins' actions was referred to the State Attorney's Office.

Police officers called DCF because Miracle, who was then just two months old, was in the apartment.

The report states she was given to Cusseaux's friend, Tarshemia Martin, to care for until Cusseaux was released. It is unclear whether Miracle was transferred to another caregiver before her death.

In their report, officers described conditions in Cusseaux's apartment as deplorable.

"The floors were covered in stains and what appeared to be food and other things," the report states. "I noticed roaches throughout the front room and kitchen area. The kitchen was filthy and unkempt."

A woman who answered the door of Cusseaux's apartment Friday burst into tears when a Times reporter identified himself. She said she did not want to talk.

Children in the care of the state are routinely placed with non-relatives as an alternative to foster parents and residential centers. Over the past 12 months, 446 non-relatives have provided care for children in Hillsborough County, according to Eckerd Kids. Of those, 370 provided care for at least 90 days.

One-third of those caregivers did not seek financial assistance that the state makes available.

DCF officials said when non-relatives are given care of children, an on-site check is made of the home to make sure it is clean and safe. Background checks are conducted to look for a history of criminal, delinquency and abuse or neglect. That is followed by fingerprinting of all adults in the house.

A case manager or other services provider should have face-to-face contact with the child at least once a week, officials said.

In addition, the Rilya Wilson Act, named after a Miami 4-year-old whom the DCF lost track of for two years, requires that children in care be enrolled in daily early education or child-care programs.

The DCF investigation will determine if those rules were followed in Miracle's case.

The placing of children with non-relatives has pros and cons, said Robin Rosenberg, deputy director of Florida's Children First, a statewide advocacy organization focused on children's rights.

For older children, it can mean staying with adults they know and trust.

But many of the caregivers need help applying for financial support and Medicaid, she said.

"It can be a wonderful thing or it can have bad results if they're not adequately supported to take care of the child," Rosenberg said. "Sometimes it imposes on really well-intended people but doesn't give them adequate support."

Contact Christopher O'Donnell at codonnell@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3446. Follow @codonnell_Times.

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