CEDAR PARK, Texas (KXAN) - An 11-month-old girl in foster care died from head injuries on Monday and a 32-year-old man is charged with injury to a child and family violence.
According to Cedar Park police, officers were called to a home in the 400 block of East Cypress Creek on Saturday to assist a crew responding to a report of a choking child. After checking on the child, officers found that it was unlikely she had been choking. She was bruised on her left ear, police said.
The girl, identified as Orien Hamilton, was taken to Dell Children's Medical Center and died Sunday morning. The hospital staff determined the girl suffered severe head injuries, police said.
"It's very rare that we have a case that is this sensitive. It is. It's very hard on everyone involved, including the personnel that responded to the scene," said Capt. Darlene Lewis with the Cedar Park Police Department.
The child was placed in what's called a foster care kinship program, meaning that a relative of a parent is named to provide care. The relative approved to provide care was called to work unexpectedly, according to Lutheran Social Services of the South Inc., which administers the program.
The child was left in the care of someone not approved by the service but according to an arrest affidavit, Salas did live at the home with the child.
"It's very uncommon for foster children to be injured or killed while in care, so this is a very uncommon occurrence," said Julie Moody, a spokesperson for the Department of Family and Protective Services. "It takes everyone involved to pay attention, to be observant, to be vigilant and to really pay attention to what's going on in those foster homes when we're actually in them."
Police determined that the unapproved care giver, 32-year-old Jacob Salas, had caused the injuries. He was in Williamson County Jail without a bail amount set.
"This case is still under investigation by the Cedar Park Police Department and we are working with Williamson County District Attorney’s Office to determine if further charges will be filed," Cedar Park police said.
The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services said it is also investigating. The agency said the child was removed Oct. 31, 2012, from a home in San Antonio after her mother tested positive for methamphetamines. The girl was placed in a foster home in San Antonio, then on Dec. 20, placed with an aunt in Cedar Park.
Earlier this year, the aunt applied to become a foster parent with Lutheran Social Services, which was required to complete a more thorough background check, the agency said
"As part of the vetting process for any new foster home, it is the responsibility of the foster parent's child-placing agency to identify any persons who are regularly in the foster home, and who may care for foster children, and to conduct criminal background checks on those individuals," the state agency said.
The aunt was verified as a foster parent by Lutheran on Oct. 7.
The state has removed three other children who were living in the home and they have been placed with a relative. None are foster children.
"The approved caregiver was previously vetted and approved by CPS and had been with them for seven months," said Dr. Kurt Senske, CEO of Lutheran Social Services of the South, Inc "The caregiver joined LSS' program on Oct 4th, after we had completed our extensive background checks on the caregiver and anyone she listed as a potential care giver and found no warnings or red flags.
Lutheran Social Services of the South also released this plan:
In addition to our already stringent, guidelines and background checks, LSS has implemented the following action plan to insure that our Kinship Program continues to follow all DFPS policies and adheres to the high standards of our organization:
1. All kinship families statewide are being called by LSS staff to verify all household members and frequent visitors.
2. All verifications are being verified for ages, gender, and ratios.
3. The LSS Austin area foster care office is voluntarily suspending any foster care and kinship placements until further notice.
4. All new kinship home studies will be screened by our Statewide Kinship Director before verification.
5. All kinship childcare plans are being verified statewide.
6. Mandatory childcare will be required for all foster homes. This will allow LSSS to verify the background of caretakers.
7. All ex-spouses that have children in the home will also be required to submit to a criminal background check.
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