KISSIMMEE, Fla. - A Kissimmee-based Department of Children and Families case worker is accused of lying in her reports and not returning more than a dozen calls from children in her caseload, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
Vanessa Arias, 33, was arrested Friday after an FDLE investigation found that she documented a welfare check to a Kissimmee home with five children on Jan. 8, 2015 that never happened.
Arias was a former employee of the nonprofit Gulf Coast Jewish Family and Community Services, a Florida DCF subcontractor, in Kissimmee. She was fired on Jan. 23, according to DCF records.
Arias wrote in her report that the children in the home were "free from any visible signs of abuse/neglect with all their basic needs being met at this time."
Kissimmee police officers responded to the home on Jan. 18 after receiving a report of child neglect.
A girl living at the home told police that her mother had been staying at the house "sporadically." The girl told police that she had been making sure her four other siblings had been getting ready for school every day and going, according to the police report.
Officers wrote that the children had been using a single wax candle for "light and heat."
After repeatedly trying to call Arias to report the conditions from December 2014 to January 2015 and making 16 calls to Arias on Jan. 16,2015, the girl said she called 911 for help, according to the FDLE report.
The FDLE said an investigation was launched after the police visit. It was determined that Arias had falsified her report and had not returned more than a dozen calls from two children, according to the report.
“This is a sad case of vulnerable children reaching out to someone in a position to help them, but instead they were ignored,” FDLE Orlando Region Special Agent in Charge Danny Banks said.
If Arias had made a visit to the home on Jan. 8, 2015, she would have known that the power at the home had been turned off for three weeks and there was no food in the house, according to police.
Arias documented visiting the home on Dec. 9 and Dec. 16, 2014, and Jan. 8, 2015, according to the FDLE. One of the children told police that they could not recall any face-to-face contacts since just after Thanksgiving in 2014.
Florida DCF press secretary David Frady said the department has an ongoing investigation into the allegations.
"The department has no tolerance for any individuals compromising their integrity and, thereby, potentially jeopardizing the safety of a child," Frady said in an email to News 6. "We immediately investigated Ms. Arias upon receiving these allegations and referred this case to law enforcement soon after."
All five children were placed into DCF custody following the 2015 child neglect call, according to the arrest affidavit.
A spokeswoman for Gulf Coast Jewish Family and Community Services was first made aware of Arias' Monday.
"In January 2015, our agency conducted an internal investigation and subsequently made a report to the Office of Inspector General," a statement from the organization said. "Our driving focus is the safety and well-being of the vulnerable children and adults whom we serve every day."
Arias was booked Friday into the Osceola County Jail.
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