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Fla. Foster Children At Risk?

<B>Vicki Mabrey</B> Reports On How State's Foster Care System Led To Death Of Child

It's an unimaginable crime -- a mother killing her own child. Yet last spring, 21-year-old Yusimil Herrera was arrested for the murder of her 3-year-old daughter, Angel.

And the story doesn't end there. Florida's Department of Children and Families is accused of failing to save Angel despite numerous warnings. That agency is notorious for its failures; it actually has lost track of more than 500 children under its watch.

And, as reports, no one knows that better than Yusimil Herrera, who was raised as a ward of the state. Today, she sits in jail, awaiting her murder trial. It's a far cry from where she was when she first spoke to CBS for a story about foster care four years ago.

In the spring of 2001, Yusimil had just given birth to a baby she optimistically named Angel Hope. Yusimil, 17, who was about to leave foster care, was convinced she'd overcome all her problems, including a diagnosis of mental illness.

Now, four years later, she's in jail facing life for the murder of that same baby, Angel. Yusimil is so heavily medicated to control her mood swings that it affects her speech and motor skills.

"It's a lot of medicine now. I need to be on the right medicine," she tells Mabrey. And when Yusimil is off her medicine, she says, "I'm all off. I don't know what be goin' on. Sometimes, I overreact."

The story of how Yusimil ended up this way began long before she had Angel. Born to a drug-addicted mother, Yusimil and her sister, Tasha Ruiz, were abandoned on a street corner in Miami in 1986. Yusimil was 2; Tasha, 4. Police found them wandering in a park two days later and placed them in foster care.

Because Yusimil is so heavily medicated, 60 Minutes Wednesday asked Tasha to tell their story. Tasha says she was moved 65 times among almost 40 different foster homes and institutions.

By law, foster care is supposed to be a temporary refuge, but for Yusimil and Tasha, it was the beginning of a 16-year nightmare. They were separated early on, and sent to different homes. And both suffered abuses so horrifying they'd be hard to believe if they weren't documented.

60 Minutes Wednesday examined more than 15,000 pages of their medical and department records. One home already had a complaint of "bizarre" physical abuse, but Tasha was sent there anyway. She remembers how the family's son used to abuse her.

"Every day we'll have to get in a corner, in the kitchen, on your knees, with your hands behind your back on the hard floor for hours and hours," recalls Tasha, who says she was about 6 or 7 at the time this happened.

"And if you would move or turn your head or something, they'll come in, snap your head against the wall or hit you. Or they'll tie you in a chair with a rope and put ice-cold water from the freezer and pour it on you. And all you have is your panties on."

"Did you tell them this is what was happening to you," asks Mabrey.

"I told the mother, the lady of the house. And she didn't believe me," says Tasha, who adds that somebody finally started to believe her when she went to the rape treatment center.

At the rape treatment center, doctors found evidence that 9-year-old Tasha had been raped and sodomized. She told them that she had not only been raped by the son who was torturing her, but also molested by the mother's boyfriend.

What's more, Tasha said she had been molested in her previous foster home as well. But neither home was shut down until more girls complained of sexual abuse.

Within a year, Tasha was diagnosed with syphilis. She wrote a letter saying, "I want to kill myself," and attempted suicide.

"I thought it was the way it was supposed to be for a long time, because it happened so much," says Tasha.

And it happened to Yusimil as well. When you go through her files, you see hospital records where a doctor notes "sexual molestation… in the first foster home" at the age of 3. Another record documents the scars on her back, which she confided to a nurse were cigarette burns. And in yet another, a teacher said that Yusimil was found at school, hungry, rifling through the garbage, looking for food.

Yusimil says she grew up thinking that no adult loved her. She had no memory of her sister, or her father, who'd been in prison since she was an infant.

She was 13 when she first met her father. "My dad was the world to me. I was happy to see him. But then he just went back to jail," says Yusimil. "He promised me he was gonna take me out, but he didn't. And that's like – I guess that makes me upset a little bit. But I love my dad."