Foster agency had history of violations


by ANDY PIERROTTI / KVUE News and photojournalist DEREK RASOR

Bio | Email | Follow: @AndyP_KVUE

Posted on August 2, 2013 at 6:46 PM

Updated Friday, Aug 2 at 7:00 PM

AUSTIN -- A foster care agency that placed a two-year-old girl in a home where she recently died, has a history of violating state child care standards.

The Department of Family and Protective Services hired Texas Mentor to match Alexandria Hill with Sherill Small in Rockdale.

"That means background checks, criminal background checks, home studies," explained DFPS spokesperson Julie Moody, talking about the obligations of placement agencies.

Those background checks don’t always happen. According to records reviewed by the KVUE Defenders, the state found Texas Mentor in violation of child care standards 15 times since 2011.

Four of those involved background check issues. One inspection found ""a frequent caregiver of the children does not have an updated background check."

Another inspection found "an infant and a toddler in care were left sleeping alone for about 15 minutes."

Tracy Harting is an Austin attorney who specializes in child welfare law. She’s also a former foster parent.

"The background checks are a little bit concerning because that seems like it should be the easy thing for a foster agency to look at,” said Harting.

Before Hill's final foster home, the state expressed concern with the first family Texas Mentor placed her with earlier this year.

The state removed her after her father, Joshua Hill, sent pictures of bruising on her legs and filthy clothes to a caseworker.

"That's not common. I mean these kids are looked at on a regular basis by their workers, by their case managers for the child placing agency,” contends Harting.

“I applaud the department for responding to a father's concerns. It's just horrible that it went from a situation that was bad, to apparently one that was worse," continued Harting. 

Texas Mentor declined on-camera interviews, but in an emailed statement wrote, "All of us at Texas MENTOR are terribly saddened by the passing of Alexandria Hill, and we extend our condolences to her family and all those who loved her.  As an organization dedicated to protecting and caring for children, we are appalled by the allegations involving one of our foster parents."

DFPS says another child under the care of the Smalls, prior to Hill, reportedly had bruising and lead poisoning, but investigators say they found no violations at the home.

Texas Mentor says the Smalls met all requirements to foster children and that its staff did monthly checks on them and Hill.

Its last checkup on Hill happened a few weeks ago.

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