TRAGEDY AND ABUSE, FROM GENERATION TO GENERATION
INSIDE FLORIDA'S NOTORIOUS FOSTER CARE SYSTEM
-- ON "60 MINUTES WEDNESDAY"
Twenty-one-year-old Yusimil Herrera is in jail awaiting trial for the murder of her three-year-old daughter, Angel. Herrera's story first gained national attention ten years ago when she and her sister sued the state of Florida. With their allegations of physical and sexual abuse, the sisters became the symbol of a foster-care system out of control. In an exclusive interview, Herrera talks, for the first time, about the circumstances that led her down a path of destruction. Correspondent Vicki Mabrey's report will be broadcast on 60 MINUTES WEDNESDAY April 13, 2005 (8:00-9:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network.
Today, Herrera is heavily medicated to control her mood swings. "...I need to be on the right medicine," says Herrera. She tells Mabrey what happens when she's not medicated. "I'm all off," she says. "I don't know what be going on. Sometimes, I overreact."
Herrera was born to a drug-addicted mother, abandoned at age two and placed into the Florida foster care system. By law, foster care is supposed to be a temporary refuge, but Herrera spent 16 years in dozens of different homes and institutions.
In 2001, at age 17 and about to leave foster care, Herrera gave birth to Angel. Despite documented reports that Herrera was an unfit mother -- so many that the Department of Children and Families (DCF) had taken away her first child and put her up for adoption -- the state of Florida allowed her to retain legal custody of Angel. But even she recognized she couldn't care for the baby and gave her to a friend to raise for a couple of years. When she finally took the baby back, DCF fought it in court, but after a judge ruled in Yusimil's favor, failed to follow up with home visits to make sure Angel was safe.
A few months later, Herrera's sister, Tasha, called DCF's hotline to report that her sister was hurting her baby. "I was concerned...I wasn't trying to hurt my sister," says Tasha Ruiz. "I was just trying to help because I knew she needed help."
But help didn't come in time to save Angel. Seven weeks after the last court hearing, police found Angel lying in the hallway of her apartment building with a fractured skull, broken arm and bruised body. According to police reports, Herrera admitted she struck Angel, knocking her against a wall. "I was a good mom," Herrera tells Mabrey. "I was the best mom to her, but she didn't understand me."
Herrera is pleading not guilty and her case is expected to go to trial later this year. State senator Skip Campbell says there's plenty of blame to go around. "Somebody didn't do their job," says Campbell. "...You have a child who's black and blue, who was beat up, who is three years old with a mother who should be classified immediately as a high-risk mother...[Angel's death is] the textbook example of how a system fails."
Jeff Fager is the executive producer of 60 MINUTES WEDNESDAY and Kyra Darnton and Rebecca Liss are the producers of this report.