It all started 13 months ago as a missing-person report. Heather, a 17-year-old girl who had been living in group homes in Flagler and Volusia counties, had run away from the RaceTrac gas station on State Road 100, where she had been with her case worker, Deirdre Wade.
Last week, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement reported Wade’s arrest on charges of felony child neglect, failure to report child abuse and providing a false report to law enforcement. She was booked at the Volusia County jail.
Heather had been drugged and raped during a runaway episode, when she was 16, according to FDLE. The child notified Wade of the attack and her intent to run away, neither of which Wade reported to law enforcement until roughly a month afterward. But that was only a small part of a much larger story of apparent neglect and lack of supervision or protocols that might have prevented the girl from running away again and again, from the agencies responsible for the child’s welfare–the Daytona Beach-based Community Partnership for Children.
Most of that was uncovered by a Flagler County Sheriff’s investigation–if not on a hunch, at least on the detective noticing almost as soon as the missing-child report was filed that something was amiss: the case worker’s claims made no sense, and detail after detail gathered from that point on only confirmed that something more serious was afoot. What started with that missing-child report in Palm Coast turned into a nearly year-long investigation by Flagler County Sheriff’s Office detective George Hristakopoulos, based on whose work the FDLE then built its own case and arrested Wade.
“On multiple occasions,” FDLE reported, “Wade also was complicit in the child running away and in covering it up from authorities, including failing to file and update timely missing child reports of the child under her care and lying to investigators. Agents also found that she hid the fact that the child was living in a different county with an adult individual not cleared for foster care.”
CPC is one of the private contractors of the Department of Children and Families, which ultimately supervises all child-welfare cases, and typifies the child-welfare system privatized in Florida since 1996. One of 19 such agencies in the state, CPC, a non-profit, is primarily responsible for cases in Flagler, Volusia and Putnam counties. (Its policies and procedures are “currently under construction,” according to its website.) In 2020 it had 1,191 “clients,” according to its budget, operated with 203 employees and on a $38 million budget, paying its CEO $162,500.
What follows is an account of the investigation that led to Wade’s arrest–an investigation that points to a case worker’s alleged criminal misconduct as much as it does at cracks in a child-welfare framework that, absent rigorous checks and balances, enabled the girl to be out of supervision month after month even though her case worker allegedly knew where she was and how she would run away.
The morning of Oct. 3, 2019, Heather (her name has been changed to protect her identity) texted Wade and asked her to pick her up at a Winn Dixie in Jacksonville. Wade did, though she did not inform law enforcement there of recovering the child. Two hours later, Wade and Heather were at AdventHealth Palm Coast’s clinic, where Heather reported that she had been raped in New Smyrna Beach in late August, and that she was pregnant from the rape. A Flagler County Sheriff’s deputy took a report there. Heather named the suspected rapist.
Wade was to drive Heather back to Volusia County after that. But sometime that evening, she allegedly ran away again. At 9:30 p.m. Wade called the sheriff’s office to report that while she and Heather were stopped at RaceTrac on State Road 100, Heather ran off. Wade did not report the runaway immediately. Wade had driven all the way back to Volusia before placing the call, long after Heather had disappeared. The 911 dispatcher told Wade that she had to report the missing girl in person. Wade said she would not do so until the next day. So the girl was not entered as missing, and 911 did not send deputies to the area of the RaceTrac to investigate–not until the next day, at 9:13 a.m., when a deputy went to the gas station. Heather was not publicly reported as missing until 3:52 p.m. that day, when the Sheriff’s Office posted an image of her on its Facebook page under a Missing person headline.
As it turned out, Heather had remained at the RaceTrac station two hours, waiting for an Uber. And Wade had allegedly been with her all along, the investigation revealed.
Wade “was with her the entire time, and stood by while [Heather] was picked up by the Uber driver,” according to the report of the investigation obtained by FlaglerLive. Heather “stated that Dierdre knew [she] was going to flee when they were at Advent Health in Palm Coast several hours earlier. [Heather] also stated that Dierdre sent a text message which stated something along the lines of ‘how could you do this to me’ in order to ‘cover her (Deirdre’s) ass.’”
But it took months for the investigation to reach that point.
Hristakopoulos (who later spoke to the Uber driver) took over the investigation, and that day contacted the Community Partnership for Children “regarding the issue with their failure to report a pregnant juvenile missing in a timely manner.” He would subsequently conduct training for staff there to avoid a repeat of the situation on Oct. 3.
Working with the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office and a property manager there, he located an address where Heather was known to spend time. Phone pings confirmed that she was in a certain apartment complex, and further investigation determined she was living with an individual who did not have custody of her. It was a potential case of interference with child custody.
Matters of jurisdiction complicated the case. It was a Flagler County missing-person case, but the child was in Jacksonville, requiring the sheriff’s office there to reclaim her. Even then, there was the matter of her habitual running away. As Hristakopoulos in late January wrote an attorney with the Department of Children and Families, Heather was bound to run away again “the moment she is taken back to her group home. I do not have any jurisdiction in the matter, but IU would like to resolve this once and for all, so that law enforcement in Flagler, Volusia and Duval counties do not have to continue to deal with this.”
To end the pattern, Hristakopoulos wanted DCF and the Community Partnership for Children to get an injunction against the person Heather was living with. Remarkably, a DCF official told the detective that the community partnership “would not want to get an injunction against the person who they know has been harboring the juvenile”–and potentially having an unlawful relationship with the girl.
On May 1, Heather resurfaced and made contact with Wade–at a hospital, where Heather had her baby. Wade signed her discharge papers and took her to an adoption agency to sign the baby’s rights away.
And from there, Heather ran away again.
Hristakopoulos was in disbelief. “I’ve spent countless hours working on locating [Heather] including sitting outside of her known addresses waiting for her to come out. I have received little to no help from JSO regarding this case, so I’ve had to physically go up there repeatedly. I’m a little shocked that I was not contacted when [she] was located.”
Hristakopoulos and his supervisor began to suspect something amiss at the Community Partnership for Children. They contacted Wade’s supervisor. “Now,” Hristakopoulos’s supervisor wrote Skye Dodd, CPC supervisor, “it appears that the same case worker was present with in the hospital while she was giving birth, and never notified law enforcement that the girl she reported missing, had been located, but then tried to report her missing again, after she ran away. Is the baby safe? I have a lot of questions and am having trouble tracking this story and would just like to be clear on it so I can determine if our agency should be investigating or if we need to find a more appropriate agency.”
Dodd did not address the issue of Wade’s odd conduct. Hristakopoulos contacted CPC Director of Case Management Kellie McKenzie, who “was not under the impression that Dierdre Wade had done anything wrong from the standpoint of the CPC,” according to the investigation. Hristakopoulos requested the agency’s report on Heather running away after delivering her baby. It took 18 days for CPC to produce the report, which details how Heather ran away again, following which Heather sent Wade a text: “sorry.”
Meanwhile, further discrepancies arose between the version Hristakopoulos was getting from the Community Partnership for Children and what he was learning on his own, among them that “a child over the age of 14 who wants to give up their child for adoption may do so without a parent, legal guardian, or court appointed guardian ad-litem,” the report of the investigation states, based on an attorney’s interpretation of the law at the Adoption and Family Support Center. Heather “could have lawfully contacted the adoption agency on her own without the knowledge of CPC.”
Body camera footage from the Jacksonville deputy who investigated Heather’s latest disappearance revealed that the deputy asked Wade if she knew of any place where Heather could have gone. Wade told him she did not know, though by then Heather’s whereabouts in Jacksonville had been documented–and Wade herself would later acknowledge to detectives that she knew the girl’s whereabouts.
On June 9, Hristakopoulos and another detective, after some surveillance, confronted Heather and the adult person she was staying with at the Jacksonville apartment complex. The person denied any sexual relationship, insisting that she was providing help to Heather only because she knew that she “has been abused and raped while in foster care.” She consented to the detectives entering the studio apartment. “While inside I was concerned that the studio apartment appeared to only have one bedroom and one bed,” Hristakopoulos reported.
It was then that Heather revealed how Wade had allegedly cooperated and helped her plan her escapes–not just from RaceTrac, but after she’d delivered her baby boy and ceded him for adoption. “When I asked how she managed to run away from Dierdre up in Jacksonville on the day she gave birth,” the detective reported, “she advised me that she did not run. [Heather] explained that she could barely walk after giving birth, and that she told Dierdre and the other CPC employee who was present at the time, that she would arrange for a ride to pick her up. The arrangement that [Heather] made was done in the presence of Dierdre Wade. According to [Heather], Dierdre told that she was going to walk inside the lawyer’s office, and indicated to [Heather] that now was her time to get away.”
There’d been attempts to get Heather to sit for a Child Protection Team interview to investigate the rape. Heather told the detective that Wade allegedly dissuaded her, calling it a “set up” by law enforcement, and that the Flagler County Sheriff’s detectives were not interested in resolving her rape case.
After speaking with Heather, the detective reported, “I felt that there was sufficient evidence that Dierdre Wade was actively lying to law enforcement, and had been doing so at least since October of 2019.” He began working to keep Heather from being returned to CPC’s custody. I made contact with Linda Mandizha telephonically and advised her of the situation. I explained to Linda that I did not want to go back into the custody of CPC, and especially not to Dierdre. The Department of Children and Families’ Linda Mandizha agreed. An arrangement was made for a family to temporarily assume Heather’s custody.
By June 10, CPC and Wade were “locked out” of Heather’s case. DCF transferred case management to a different provider, Family Support Services in Jacksonville. Hristakopoulos then contacted the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which started the criminal investigation into Wade’s role. CPC placed her on administrative leave in June.
Karin Flositz, the agency’s CEO, did not return a call, a text and an email before this article published, but a few hours later confirmed that Wade was “no longer employed by Community Partnership for Children.” Flositz said CPS has fully cooperated with agencies conducting the investigation, but that, citing confidentiality and legal proceedings, “Community Partnership for Children is not able to provide any further details or comments at this time.”
The rape suspect has not been arrested, though he’s attempted to communicate with the alleged victim. In one message, according to the investigation, “he appears to reference being afraid of being killed or imprisoned for what he has done.” Heather then told Hristakopoulos by text that the alleged assailant was “blowing my phone up and I feel uncomfortable.” But the rape case is not the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office’s jurisdiction, but that of New Smyrna Beach police.
“She can block him. That would be the easiest,” Detective Brittny Olsen of the New Smyrna Beach Police Department suggested. “With the baby DNA, and her statement, I’m not doing a controlled call right now until I get her statement. I don’t want her to shut down so if you’ll just have her block him I’d appreciate it.”
Heather herself finally had her interview with the Child Protection Team on July 2. She turned 18 on Oct. 7–and immediately left her custodial home, presumably returning to Jacksonville.
The warrant for Wade’s arrest was signed on Nov. 10.