Days after 6-year-old Kendrea Johnson died with a jump rope around her neck in the bedroom of her Brooklyn Park foster home, the Minnesota Department of Human Services temporarily suspended the license of her foster care mother.
Because of the girl’s death late Saturday, the agency decided Monday that Tannise Nawaqavou cannot ensure the safety of the children she has under her care, the state said.
Johnson’s 1-year-old brother, Charles, has been removed from her home, and no other children remain in the house, the state said.
Nawaqavou, 53, who was licensed in 2011, can appeal the department’s decision. As recently as September, Kendrea’s court-appointed advocate had recommended that Hennepin County consider alternative housing for the girl, court documents said.
“She was a cute little girl who appeared well-cared-for to me,” said Barbara Englund, her kindergarten music teacher in 2013 at Sheridan Arts Magnet School in Minneapolis. “She never acted up in my class, and worked really hard. The teachers cared about her.”
But a report made in late November by the caseworker assigned to reunite Kendrea and her brother with their parents painted a more troubled life at school and with her various foster providers.
The children had been in foster care for nearly a year. Nawaqavou had cared for them over the previous six months, Kendrea’s uncle Willie Venzant said Wednesday.
They were placed in foster care after child protection said their parents repeatedly failed to comply with efforts to keep the children safe, according to court documents. In August, a guardian ad litem said Kendrea wanted to live with her grandmother.
The caseworker’s report said Kendrea had an outgoing personality and a lot of energy while at home.
But she also displayed unusually aggressive behavior at home and school for a child her age, had been suspended at school six times, and would try to run away from her foster care provider, the report said.
The caseworker told the provider that if she continued to find it difficult to keep her safe at home, she should contact a hospital, the report said. The county was planning to have a personal care attendant help with the children.
Venzant said his niece didn’t act out at all when she was around the people she loved. He said his family hasn’t planned her funeral yet because they remain in shock over her death Saturday.
Details from the scene
When Brooklyn Park police were called to Nawaqavou’s home in the 9200 block of Queens Garden Avenue N., they found Kendrea not breathing. The details of what happened that night were in a search warrant made public this week.
Her foster parents told police she went to bed about 8 p.m., her usual bedtime, according to the search warrant. A 30-year-old man who lives at the home checked on her 10 minutes later and said she had been coloring and that there appeared to be no problems.
When the man checked on Kendrea at 8:30 p.m., she was hanging from a jump rope that was tied to the top support post of the bunk bed in her bedroom, the warrant said. He took Kendrea down and started to try to resuscitate her.
The crime lab deputy found the knot securing the jump rope to be very sophisticated, and a deputy at the scene said he didn’t believe a 6-year-old girl could tie that kind of knot, the warrant said. Blood, possibly from Kendrea, was found on one of the bunk bed’s blankets. A white bucket that her foster parents said wasn’t usually in the bedroom was found near the bed, the warrant said.
Handwritten notes on torn book pages that appeared to have been created by a child were found on the floor.
Kendrea’s foster parents told investigators she didn’t have a history of mental illness or of trying to hurt herself, the warrant said. But in August, her guardian had requested a mental health evaluation for the girl.
Police said again Wednesday that the case is not being treated as a homicide, and that they continue to investigate. Brooklyn Park Police Deputy Chief Mark Bruley said his five investigators are working hard to uncover the facts.
“Any death investigation is serious, but one involving a child is certainly concerning to us,” he said. “Everybody would agree this is something [where] we have to figure out what happened.”
License sanction mulled
Nawaqavou, who couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday, was notified Monday that her license would be temporarily suspended. Family Alternatives, a private agency that licensed her, learned that law enforcement and Hennepin County child protection were investigating her because of Kendrea’s death, according to the Department of Human Services.
Family Alternatives is a state-licensed foster care and adoption agency. It recruits, assesses and trains foster families, the agency’s website said. Executive Director Joan Riebel didn’t return repeated phone calls Wednesday.
Nawaqavou’s license suspension will remain in effect until any investigations are completed and a determination is made whether there will be a final licensing sanction, said Department of Human Services media relations manager Karen Smigielski. The department has 90 days to make its decision.
If the license is revoked, Nawaqavou would be prohibited from holding any department license for at least five years, Smigielski said. Nawaqavou would have the right to appeal any final licensing sanction.
Last year, the department issued five temporary suspensions of child foster care licenses and 53 revocations. In 2013, there was one suspension and 51 revocations.
Success cut short
Englund, Kendrea’s former music teacher, said she never knew her student was in foster care.
The little girl liked music, memorized nursery rhymes and played rhythmic instruments, she said.
Every quarter at the school, a student from each of the five different sections is picked to be honored at an assembly. Kendrea was one of those winners, beating out 125 other students in her section.
“She was very excited,” Englund said. “She had success in her life. And now that little success feels real sad when you think about her death.”