Jennifer Jones had it hard enough when she was a domestic violence victim. She’d split up with the father of her two children. One day, while picking them up from visitation with him, he fiercely attacked her with a knife, stabbing her in the back several times. As she ran for her life, daddy decided to set the home on fire – with two children still inside of it.
Thanks to rescue workers, both children made it through that ordeal. Then DFACS stepped in, and her nightmare worsened.
“DFACS intervened in the name of protecting the children,” the WTVC NewsChannel 9 broadcast explained. The foster home, however, was three counties away from her, and Jones had no car. When she did manage to see her children, she noticed things; things such as bruises, scratches, and a burn on his chest.
Jones told WTVC News that she spent her days trying to contact someone – anyone from the state who could intervene on Saharah’s behalf. Her calls for help went unanswered. She was brushed off by the agency when she tried to report Saharah’s maltreatment.
“Something is going on in that house there,” Jones aid. “Nine different times I know I’ve told the DHS workers. I’ve told everyone in contact with the babies.”
No matter what she did, Jones was ignored until it was too late. Her two-year-old daughter, Saharah Weatherspoon, died on New Year’s Day at a hospital in Chattanooga, according to the May 16, 2014, news broadcast.
The private agency that Georgia had contracted with for the care of foster children was Omni Visions, Inc. Foster mother Clara Edwards worked for Omni Visions as a contracted foster mother, and it was in her tidy suburban home that Saharah sustained the injuries that would ultimately claim her life.
Jennifer approached WTVC News because the Department of Family and Children Services was stonewalling her, she had no idea how to proceed. It wasn’t until the News team began investigating and pushing the agency to release the files, that Jennifer discovered just how her child had died.
Jones stood in the cemetery where she’d buried her two-year-old daughter, and with reporters at her side, she read for the first time what the autopsy revealed. The reports made heavy use of black ink, but they were still quite revealing. “An autopsy was completed and there was evidence of bruising found on the back, arms, face, and torso. Had retinal hemorrhages and both new and old brain bleeding,” she said in a near state of shock.
As of May 15, 2014, there were no arrests in the case.
This is not the first fatality that Omni Visions had on its hands. In December 2007, the Knoxville News Sentinel reported:
Omni Visions, the Nashville-based private network of foster care homes that placed 16-year-old Jordan Kaleb Shelton with the man accused of choking him to death last month, is the state’s largest provider of such care.
Contracts with Omni Visions are worth about $40 million annually, Department of Children’s Services spokesman Rob Johnson said.
“They are our largest private provider, and they work all across the state,” he said. “Their overall record has been very good. They are one of our best providers.”
The firm has been a provider to the state since the inception of DCS in 1991.
The Knoxville News Sentinel also reported: “Kaleb’s death is the first inside an Omni Visions home but not the first time a placement has gone awry. Several years ago, a teenager in Omni Visions’ care died on a hiking trip. And the firm is being sued in Knox County Circuit Court over a highly publicized case from 2001, when two girls were placed in the care of a convicted child molester.”
In July 2010, Channel 5 News reported that:
An 11-year-old foster child suffered third degree burns over his entire body. Now his foster parents and the company that placed him in their care are at the center of a three million dollar lawsuit.
The lawsuit claims that a stove fire caused the burns and that the foster parents kept the child suffering in agonizing pain for three hours, before eventually taking him to the hospital.
“In all, the suit asks for three million in damages, not just to help with the boys lifelong disability fund, but also to send a message to companies like Omni Vision, that there are consequences,” Channel 5 News reported.
These are not the only problems with this company. In its June/July 2009 Medicaid Fraud Report, the National Association of Medicaid Fraud Control Units reported that Tammie McKuhn, a home health aide, pleaded guilty in criminal court to one count of adult exploitation and one count of theft.
The Fraud report continues on to explain: “It was alleged that McKuhn, an operations manager employed by TennCare subcontractor, OmniVision, Inc., misappropriated funds from the personal bank account of a TennCare recipient. McKuhn allegedly wrote and cashed several checks on the client’s behalf for personal use. Additionally, there were several items purchased for the client which were not found at the client’s residence. McKuhn admitted to misappropriating $820 via fraudulent checks and $488.67 in fraudulent purchases. On January 8 McKuhn was indicted and charged with one count of willful exploitation of an adult and one count of theft of property over $500.000.”
Jennifer Jones was deemed unworthy of raising her own children, but DFACS called on her when the decision needed to be ratified to remove the child’s life support.