Foster deaths prompt safety plans

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by by ANDY PIERROTTI / KVUE News and Photojournalist DEREK RASOR

Bio | Email | Follow: @AndyP_KVUE

kvue.com

Posted on October 25, 2013 at 6:14 PM

Updated Wednesday, Oct 30 at 9:05 AM

An alarming number of children dying in foster care prompts a state-wide safety plan by the Texas Department of Families and Protective Services. The plan comes after two central Texas children died in foster care within it the past two months.

Two-year-old Alex Hill died in Rockdale after police say her foster mother slammed her to the ground this past August. This week, one-year-old Orion Destany Hamilton died after her foster mother’s boyfriend allegedly crushed the baby's head between his knee and the floor inside their Cedar Park home. Both children were under the care of the DFPS at the time.

"It is Child Protective Services' job to ensure the safety of the other children in the home," Julie Moody told KVUE on Thursday.

According to the agency, the number of fatalities in foster care has more than tripled, from two in 2012 to eight deaths so far this year. Joshua Hill is Alex's father.

"I know that my daughter is not the only one who has ever died in foster care, and I can probably say she won't be the last," said Hill.

Today, DFPS Commissioner John Specia announced several changes to the agency. Some of the more significant include:

  • Increasing the number of unannounced visits in foster homes with very young children
  • Immediate safety checks of provider homes
  • Statewide training refresher courses for all foster care staff

Adding more case workers to the agency isn’t on the list.

Child advocacy attorney Karen Langley says the agency doesn’t have the resources to monitor children.

"The department is overwhelmed. The department is horribly underfunded," Langley said.

The state hires outside agencies to handle 90 percent of children in foster care. It also plans to conduct a performance audit on those contractors. In November, the agency will hold a forum in Austin involving state and foster placing agency staff to discuss more potential changes.

Read DFPS' safety plan for children in foster care here.

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