The Calizaire sisters lived with countless families, and say they were abused by some of their foster care parents
Sophia and Princess Calizaire were introduced to foster care when they were seen wandering the streets looking for their mother, who had left them alone in a South Florida motel.
“We heard this big bang at the door,” said Sophia Calizaire. “We were trying to figure out who it was.”
It was the Florida Department of Children and Families coming to take them away, and they became foster care files that night, when they were just four and seven years old.
The Calizaire sisters lived with countless families and were moved from one school to another. They say they were abused while staying with some of those foster care parents.
“She took a belt, she started beating me with the belt, picked up a hanger, she started beating me with the hanger, picked up a heel and started beating me with the heel,” said Sophia.
Her sister, Princess, was outside the room and could hear everything. “I couldn’t do anything about it,” Princess said, with tears coming down her face.
The Calizaire sisters remember one foster care parent making them sleep in a dog house and eat dog food. They say some foster care parents wouldn’t feed them, would keep locks on the refrigerator and would sometimes starve them as a form of punishment.
“She told me to eat in front of my sister while she watched and my sister is hungry. I took out the chewed up piece of chicken from my mouth and gave it to her,” said Sophia, who said she was caught by her foster care mother. “She filled up the bathroom sink and she took my head and started drowning me. She kept drowning me until she felt she was ready to stop.”
Princess says the abuse not only came from the parents. “I stayed in a foster home down south where this boy used to try to rape me every night before I would go to sleep,” she said. “I used to be scared to go to sleep at night. I ran away from there.”
Mez Pierre, now 24, had a similar experience in foster care when he was a little boy. He says he was sexually abused by one of the teen foster kids staying in the same home.
“I was a little kid, they knew they could take advantage of me and I couldn’t fight back,” said Pierre. “But I did tell, I did tell someone and she didn’t do anything, she didn’t do anything.”
In 2005, DCF completed privatizing foster care. They contracted with 20 lead agencies throughout the state to oversee the care and needs of children in foster care.
Our Kids manages Miami-Dade and Monroe counties, while Child Net handles Broward County. The abuse endured by Pierre and the Calizaire sisters happened before the agencies took over, but they still say the system is far from perfect.
Some child advocate attorneys say the current privatized system does not work because lead agencies like Our Kids sub-contracted other organizations to monitor foster care children.
“So you have multiple corporations and agencies who supposedly are in charge and responsible for the lives of the children but tragically these children, real human beings, fall through the cracks in the system,” said attorney Howard Talenfeld.
DCF disagrees and says when it was a statewide agency it became quite unmanageable.
“Out of the one or two cases that you hear which are horrible cases and we need to learn from, there are thousands of children and families that DCF and Our Kids helps on a yearly and daily basis,” said DCF’s southern regional director, Esther Jacobo, who added that DCF is taking steps to improve the system.
Jacobo said case managers have to see a child in care every 30 days and must have private conversations with that child so they feel comfortable opening up. She says there is an electronic monitoring system in place for case workers, which snaps a picture of the child with a time, date and location.
“It’s kind of like a GPS and statewide Tallahassee monitors that so you know what is happening in terms of the child visit,” Jacobo said.
Currently, there are just fewer than 20,000 children in foster care statewide, according to DCF. During a two-month span between August and October, there were 127 verified abuse cases across the state, 17 of them in the South Florida area.