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Tag Archives: Child Protective Services

Father sues Fresno Co. over son’s death


He says Child Protective Services failed boy, 10, who was fatally beaten.

By John Ellis / The Fresno Bee

The father of Seth Ireland, the 10-year-old boy who police said died after he was repeatedly punched, kicked and stomped by his mother’s boyfriend, has filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against Fresno County.

Fresno attorney Warren Paboojian filed the suit Thursday in Fresno County Superior Court on behalf of Joe Hudson.

The bare-bones suit is four pages long and makes several allegations of negligence against Fresno County’s Child Protective Services.

Paboojian declined to comment on the lawsuit, and Catherine Huerta, director of Fresno County Children and Family Services, declined to comment because she has not seen the suit.

Besides Fresno County, the suit also names Rena Ireland, Seth’s mother, but she is not being sued and her inclusion is because wrongful-death lawsuits must include all known heirs.

Crime and courts coverage Seth Ireland died Jan. 6, which police say was eight days after he was beaten and kicked inside his southwest Fresno home.

Rena Ireland, 41, has been charged with child abuse. Her 33-year-old boyfriend, LeBaron Vaughn, who has confessed to beating Seth, has been charged with murder. They are both in Fresno County Jail.

Hudson’s lawsuit says that Seth was a client of Child Protective Services. It says agency officials received “repeated reports of abuse and were given evidence of abuse” of Seth. But, the suit says, the county failed to protect the child and did not remove him from the home and away from Vaughn.

The reported instances of abuse occurred between June 1, 2008, and Seth’s death.

The suit also says the county “intentionally and/or negligently failed to allow [Hudson] to see his dying son in the hospital for an extended period of time after the fatal beating and before the child’s death.”

At the time of Seth’s death, Huerta said her office began looking at the family at the end of August. Hudson had expressed concerns that his son was being beaten, she said at the time.

Police also said Rena Ireland watched the beatings.

The reporter can be reached at or (559) 441-6320.

Foster mother charged


By DARCIE LORENO Tribune Chronicle

WARREN – More than five months after the death of 21-month-old Tiffany Sue Banks, her foster mother was charged with her murder.

Bonnie Pattinson, 31, of Newton Falls, was indicted Friday by a Trumbull County grand jury on charges of murder and felonious assault in Banks’ death and was issued $1 million bond.

“We’re glad she’s arrested,” said Banks’ biological grandmother, Loretta Banks. “We’ve been waiting too long for this.”

Pattinson appeared before Judge Peter Kontos in Trumbull County Common Pleas Court Friday afternoon. She was upset and cried at points during the arraignment. She’ll be back in court Oct. 1.

On April 2, Pattinson reported finding Tiffany not breathing after checking on her while the girl was napping at their 663 Center St. W. duplex in Champion. Pattinson and her husband, William, since have moved to Newton Falls.

Pattinson ran next door, a neighbor performed CPR and police were called, according to police reports.

Officer said the toddler was unresponsive and blue with marks on her body. The marks were not caused by medical treatment and intervention during the call, police reports state.

Banks died as a result of asphyxiation associated with multiple blunt traumatic injuries, according to her death certificate.

CSB had taken custody of Tiffany, who would have been 2 June 27, at birth, declaring her mother, Felicia, unfit. Felicia Banks, Loretta Banks, and Tiffany’s father, Tommy Cross, visited the baby weekly until Felicia formally lost custody in November.

They previously said she always seemed healthy. But they were concerned at Banks’ funeral when they saw bruises and marks on her body.

The baby’s death was ruled a homicide in late July.

Marcia Tiger, Trumbull County Children Services executive director, said Friday, “We’ll let the legal system run its course. We cooperated and will continue to cooperate with police and prosecutors.”

She also said it’s also been a long wait for CSB.

“We’re pleased,” she said. “We don’t know when things are turned over to the prosecutor what’s going to happen.”

A grandmother’s sad tale of grief


Cleveland County parents held in death of toddler

By Joe DePriest


Kathy Jean Swafford kisses her hand and then places it over the grave of her grandson, 2-year-old Jeremiah Swafford, a victim of child abuse.

Kathy Jean Swafford kisses her hand and then places it over the grave of her grandson, 2-year-old Jeremiah Swafford, a victim of child abuse.

The frequent vision seems all too real to Kathy Jean Swafford: her only grandson comes back from the grave.

Jeremiah Swafford, who was beaten to death in February at age 2, tells her about the abuse he suffered and whispers he’s OK now, the hurt is gone.

For Kathy Jean Swafford, those imagined words of comfort don’t ease the loss of a child she considered her own. New details of his death in a recently released autopsy report have made things worse.

“Jeremiah had bruises we didn’t see,” said Swafford, 39, who lives in southern Cleveland County. “I figured the report would be bad and it was. Nobody can imagine the pain this brings.”

Jeremiah’s mother, Kathy Lynn Swafford, 21, and her husband, Dwight Stacy Justice, 42, remain in the Cleveland County Detention Center under $200,000 bond each. They’re awaiting trial on charges of felony child abuse and murder. Both have criminal records and there’s a history of drug abuse.

Kathy Jean Swafford hopes Jeremiah’s case will raise public awareness of the state’s child abuse problem. Last year, 25 children died from child abuse in North Carolina. In 2007, there were more than 120,500 reported cases of child abuse and violence, according to Prevent Child Abuse of North Carolina Inc.

Authorities said that on Feb. 13 the Cleveland County EMS responded to the apartment near Shelby where Kathy Lynn Swafford and Justice lived after a caller reported that Jeremiah was sick.

The toddler died at Carolinas Medical Center on Valentine’s Day. Mecklenburg’s medical examiner said the cause was blunt trauma to the head, a result of physical assault or abuse.

The autopsy noted bruises and punctures on the child’s chest, arms and legs. There was a blue-green discoloration of the abdomen and a six-inch fracture on the left side of the skull.

According to the report, Jeremiah suffered “diffuse brain swelling with beginning of brain herniation” and was bleeding from his nose, mouth and around his rectum.

“The mother reported to authorities that the stepfather would often ‘be mean’ to the child and this included hitting him and causing bruises,” according to the autopsy. “She stated that he may have slammed his head against an arm of the chair the night before.”

Kathy Jean Swafford said family members had contacted police and social services in the past to get help because they suspected the toddler was being abused.

‘My first grandbaby’

Jeremiah’s case stirred outrage and criticism of the Cleveland County Department of Social Services. A report released by DSS in late February showed social workers were unable to substantiate allegations of abuse during a five-week investigation. The report detailed an escalating pattern of contact between investigators and the family, and said DSS was planning to close the case as “unsubstantiated” when the 2-year-old died.

Swafford continues to criticize DSS and the Cleveland County Sheriff’s Office for the way the case was handled.

“Jeremiah was my first grandbaby. I named him,” Swafford said. “I feel like the system let him down and I want justice.”

Cleveland County Assistant District Attorney Bill Young said Kathy Lynn Swafford and Justice probably won’t stand trial before spring 2010. Both say they’re innocent.

Justice’s lawyer, Ted Cummings of Hickory, said Justice “is doing well under the circumstances.

“He’s got a lot of support from his family and friends,” Cummings said. “He’s a very religious person and is satisfied that the truth will set him free.”

Getting at truth

Swafford’s attitude toward her daughter reflects anger, frustration and natural parental concern. At first, they had no contact. Then Swafford decided to go to the county jail for a visit. As she stood in line, she had time to think about their first meeting.

“The more I thought, the madder I got,” she said. She turned around and left.

Mother and daughter have yet to meet in person. But in time, the daughter began calling and writing, asking about relatives, mentioning a new interest in the Bible, describing weight loss and sleepless nights. One morning, she said, Jeremiah visited the jail cell.

The toddler is always on the young mother’s mind, Kathy Jean Swafford said.

“She’s still saying she didn’t do it,” she said. “I’m hoping and praying to God she didn’t. But she was there when it happened and should have been looking after him.”

Getting at the truth is hard.

“I’m talking to the Lord to show me the way,” Swafford said. “I’m supposed to love my daughter no matter what. I can’t turn my back on her.”

Swafford said the family can’t afford to make bond for her daughter. Meanwhile, she’s circulating a petition to withdraw the bond for Justice.

This summer, she put a heart-shaped marker on Jeremiah’s grave. She visits the small church cemetery in southern Cleveland County several times a week. People think she’s crazy, Swafford said, but she sits down talks to her grandson.

“I tell him I love and miss him,” she said. “I tell him I wish I could change what happened.”

Experts worry child deaths will lead to `panic’

By Troy Anderson Staff Writer

Posted: 09/04/2009 08:59:47 PM PDT

FOSTER CARE: Some fear agencies may rashly take youngsters from parents in wake of county fatalities.

By Troy Anderson Staff Writer

Following a series of high-profile deaths of children in Los Angeles County, child welfare experts are warning that foster care agencies could overreact to the renewed scrutiny by tearing hundreds of children needlessly from their families.

Several experts said that when the agencies faced public criticism in the past they have at times acted too quickly to take children from their families and place them in foster care.

They warn this reaction will further overload the system, making it even harder for social workers to help children in real danger.

“Children’s lives – literally – may depend on stopping such a foster care panic,” said Richard Wexler, executive director of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform.

In the past year, well-publicized deaths of a child by the hands of a parent or caregiver in Los Angeles have included Dae’von Bailey, 6; Jasmine Granados, 2; and Lars Sanchez, 4. Bailey and Sanchez’s alleged mistreatment had been reported to DCFS before their deaths.

Bailey’s stepfather, Marcas Fisher, allegedly beat him to death in late July in South Los Angeles.

County Supervisor Gloria Molina last month said the death of a child from starvation, the decapitation of another child and the beating death of another child convinced her that “something did not happen – something fell through the cracks.”

But county officials disputed the idea of a “foster care panic,” saying they have seen no evidence of it.

Department of Children and Family Services Director Trish Ploehn noted the number of detention petitions filed in Juvenile Court has dropped from 941 in May to 896 in July. That’s down from 972 in May to 934 in July of last year.

“Why is (a foster care panic) not happening in Los Angeles?” Ploehn asked. “The answer is our county’s child welfare system, which has been significantly reformed over the past several years, is built on the belief that child safety is paramount and that children should only be removed from their families when necessary due to their safety.”

But Wexler said social workers – fearful they could be disciplined or fired for leaving or returning a child to a parent who later kills them – know they will not face repercussions for needlessly removing children from their families and placing them in foster homes.

“After seeing scores of their colleagues transferred to desk jobs, seeing one county supervisor falsely blaming fatalities on efforts to keep families together, and seeing another declare that heads will roll, every caseworker is running scared.”

Kenneth Krekorian, executive director of Los Angeles Dependency Lawyers, said he’s noticed an uptick in the number of detention petitions filed in Juvenile Court to separate children from their families since the child deaths received widespread publicity.

“I don’t know whether we have enough information yet to see if the increase is due to the deaths of these children,” Krekorian said. “But I would agree with (Wexler). I’ve been doing this for many years and it does seem when there is something in the newspaper about a death of a child, or a notorious case, that there is an increase in filings afterwards.”

County officials said eight social workers are currently assigned to desk duty as investigators probe the deaths and any mistakes made in the cases of the children who died over the past year.

Studies show a third of children are abused in foster care and when they leave the system many wind up homeless, on welfare, incarcerated or dead. A recent county grand jury report noted nearly 70 percent of people in California prisons and jails are “products of the foster care system.”

The concerns about a foster care panic come as DCFS has made what its former director, David Sanders, called “revolutionary” reforms, reducing the number of children in foster homes on any given day from 30,000 in 2003 to 15,553 last month.

The Board of Supervisors has kept vacant for nearly three years the position of an independent entity charged with investigating child deaths and recommending what actions should be taken to prevent future tragedies.

Despite the drop in the number of children living in foster homes, Wexler said DCFS takes children away from homes at a much higher rate than most other large metropolitan areas. After falling for several years, the number of children entering the county’s child protective system rose 24 percent from 8,299 in 2003 to 10,903 in 2007 before dropping to 10,083 last year, according to the Center for Social Services Research at the University of California, Berkeley.

The Board of Supervisors has expressed concerns that DCFS has become too focused on reducing the number of children in foster care. Since the recession began, concerns have mounted that the downturn could result in increased stress in families and more violence in the home.

Although Molina and Yaroslavsky did not return calls for comment, Karen Strickland, executive director of Find The Children, a Los Angeles-based missing children’s organization, said she shares their concerns and has seen numerous cases where social workers have left children in the care of parents who are potentially dangerous to their children.

“I’m concerned about the assessment skills of these workers and the supervision these workers are getting,” Strickland said.

Despite the recent tragedies, Ploehn noted the number of deaths of children from abuse and neglect “known to the system” has dropped from a high of 20 in 1999 to a record low of 11 in 2006. The number increased to 12 in 2007 and 14 last year.

Ploehn said more than 50,000 children were living in foster homes in 1999, the same year the county experienced the highest number of deaths due to abuse and neglect of children known to DCFS.

As DCFS has provided more services to help families stay intact, Ploehn said “children are indeed safer, not only from harm and possible death, but also safer from the negative effects of being separated from their family.”

To prevent a “foster-care panic” in which social service agencies needlessly remove children from homes, foster care expert Richard Wexler offers a few recommendations to the Board of Supervisors:

Expand investigation of high- profile death cases to include equal attention to wrongful removal cases.

Seek changes in state law to provide for “total transparency,” including opening court hearings in child welfare cases, and most case records, to the public and media.

Establish clear public benchmarks for progress, post the data prominently on the DCFS Web site and commit to measuring DCFS by those outcomes, “not by whatever happens to be on the front page that morning.”

Suspend the use of “structured decision-making” in which computers decide when to remove children based on questionnaires filled out by social workers.

“They need to make clear to front-line caseworkers that wrongfully removing a child from a safe home is every bit as dangerous as leaving a child in a dangerous home,” said Wexler.

– Troy Anderson


Expert tells how he would prevent ‘panic’ in foster-care system

By Troy Anderson, Staff Writer

Updated: 09/04/2009 09:28:34 PM PDT

To prevent a “foster-care panic” in which social service agencies needlessly remove children from homes, foster care expert Richard Wexler offers a few recommendations for the Board of Supervisors:

Expand any investigation of high-profile death cases to include equal attention to cases of wrongful removal.


Seek changes in state law to provide for “total transparency,” including opening court hearings in child welfare cases, and most case records, to the public and press.

Establish clear public benchmarks for progress, post the data prominently on the DCFS Web site and commit to measuring DCFS by those outcomes, “not by whatever happens to be on the front page that morning.”


Suspend the use of “structured decision-making” in which computers decide when to remove children based on questionnaires filled out by social workers.

“They need to make clear to front-line caseworkers that wrongfully removing a child from a safe home is every bit as dangerous as leaving a child in a dangerous home,” said Wexler, executive director of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform in Alexandria, Va.

Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich said he’s confident an action the board recently took calling on better information-sharing among various government agencies will help prevent tragedies like the recent ones.

“We need to use these tragedies to improve and upgrade DCFS investigations,” Antonovich said. “That’s why we are talking about using more modern technology.”

Team to review CPS


HOUSTON (KTRK) — The state responds to mounting criticism aimed at Child Protective Services following the deaths of three young children. The state has sent a team to Houston to find out what, if anything could have been done differently to save those young lives. The families of each of those three cases had a history with Child Protective Services.

Officials say the team will be coming to Houston to take a tough look at the way things are done in the Houston office. They are fully aware of the criticism that has come following the most recent deaths.

CPS first came under fire after four-year-old Emma Thompson. CPS had failed to remove the child from the family’s home, even though she had been diagnosed with an STD prior to her death. There was more criticism when it was learned two-month-old Amber MacCurdy died of a staph infection after CPS investigated her family. And recently, a three-year-old Montgomery County boy died from blunt trauma days after CPS workers had been to his home.

As a result of those deaths, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services commissioner, who oversees CPS, ordered a team to come to Houston and investigate. Those members will be pulling in a random sample of cases to examine, conducting structured interviews with staff, and gathering and studying child death reports to see how they were handled.

However, critics say these measures have been done before, in fact, since the late 1980s, under similar circumstances to little or no change within the agency.

Randy Burton of Justice for Children said, “What I’m afraid of is that this is nothing but a dog and pony show, that they’re going to talk to a few people, then they get some input from the public. But we’ve done this countless times.”

“We want to improve the system,” explained CPS spokesperson Estella Olguin. “We encourage and we look forward to what are some of the improvements, because case workers, it’s really a difficult job that they do. (I get so tired of hearing from this woman…all she does is make excuses for these failures!)

Every day they’re going out and trying to make decisions and trying to predict human behavior. There are tough decisions and we welcome any help we can get.”

One of the areas of improvement CPS says they have already recognized is getting law enforcement partners out on serious cases from the beginning. It’s something critics say they have been asking for for years.


Child Protective Services Investigates Itself


(I love how this is worded…Allowing CPS to investigate themselves is like allowing a murder to be the judge and jury in their own trial, of course they are going to find themselves innocent!)


Death of Three Children Prompt Probe,0,5742936.story

Dennis Spellman

HOUSTON – Child Protective Services is investigating itself. The investigation was prompted by three recent deaths of children that CPS had files on, but did not take action to remove them from their living situation.

Four-year-old Emma Thompson of Montgomery County was beaten to death in June. Child Protective Services is investigating whether it could have stepped in earlier and saved the girl’s life.

On Friday three people were arraigned in the connection with the death of three-year-old David Lee Tijerina. The boy’s family had been investigated four times by child protective services, yet the child died anyway.

CPS had also investigated a Katy girl’s home. She died of a staph infection less than a month later.

“Our commissioner has sent a team down here to the Houston office to begin doing a comprehensive review of two programs to see if we can recognize any gaps,” said CPS Spokesperson Estella Olguin.

The CPS team arrived yesterday. More investigators come next week. The whole process will take a couple of months.

“It is unusual for the state to take this level of action to track down why children are dying, even though CPS has been investigating their treatment,” said Olguin.

There is much work ahead for the team to investigate.

“They are going to be analyzing data, gathering information, looking at these cases to see if there are trends or problems in certain areas. They will make recommendations on what can be improved,” Olguin said.

Olguin says one of the solutions will likely be better equipping caseworkers.

“Getting case workers information and putting it at their finger tips. A summery of previous history with a family so they have this before they even go out on cases,” Olguin said.


3 Deaths in 5 Months


Prompts CPS Review

Updated: Friday, 04 Sep 2009, 9:45 PM CDT

Published : Friday, 04 Sep 2009, 2:13 PM CDT


HOUSTON – The recent deaths of three Houston area children known to be at risk have prompted a serious review of Child Protective Services. CPS has been under intense scrutiny this summer.

Now, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services commissioner has sent a review team to Houston to investigate what could have been done differently to save the three children. Critics, though, aren’t convinced the team will do any good.

When Emma Thompson died in June, she had 80 bruises and trauma to her abdomen. CPS knew she also had genital herpes. In April, two month old Amber Maccurdy died of an untreated staph infection. CPS had visited her family less than four weeks earlier. Then on Monday David Tijerina was found with bruises and broken bones at his home in Montgomery County, which a caseworker randomly checked just six days before his death.

“With each child who dies from abuse and neglect, we try to learn from that. It’s a tragedy, but we try to learn what we could have done differently,” said Estella Olguin, spokeswoman for CPS.

For the next month the review team will examine a random sample of 200 open cases in response to the three deaths. There will also be interviews with staff members at all levels. Reviews of the agency are routinely done but Olguin says this one is different.

“It’s different in that the commissioner asked this to be done now in the Houston area so we can address this problem immediately and try to come up with solutions to help the staff,” said Olguin.

Critics have been pushing for changes within CPS for years.

“It’s the same old thing over again. I mean they’ve (CPS) done this before with similar results. Kids still continue to die,” said Bobby Parnell.

Parnell used to work for CPS. He’s now part of the non profit Justice for Children and one of CPS’s harshest critics.

“There needs to be systematic, sweeping changes that will allow law enforcement to take a bigger role in investigating child abuse,” said Parnell.

Olguin says two big changes are already taking place. Former police officers employed by CPS will be sent out with social workers on the most serious of cases to act as an extra set of eyes and ears with investigative skills. Plus, case workers will be given immediate access to a summary of a family’s history with CPS before initiating contact with them.

“The whole issue of child abuse is not a simple solution, and people want a simple solution to a very complex problem,” said Olguin.

The review will be completed in October. The information will be shared with the commissioner who will then pass it on to Governor Perry and other lawmakers.

State launches review of CPS


3 children’s deaths prompt look at area unit’s policies, staffing



A state review team is looking at a possible breakdown in the way Texas Child Protective Services follows up on its own abuse investigations after three Houston-area children died despite the agency’s intervention.

“I wanted to take a good look at investigations,” Anne Heiligenstein, Texas Department of Family and Protective Services commissioner, said Friday of her decision to send a review team to Houston.

Three children — Katy infant Amber Maccurdy, 3-year-old David Tijerina of Conroe and 4-year-old Emma Thompson of Spring — have died of abuse since April despite the fact that all three had been reported to CPS as possible child abuse victims. Emma and Amber died even though both were seen within weeks of their deaths by CPS investigators.

David, who died on Monday from blunt trauma to his abdomen, was seen by a CPS worker just six days before he died. On Friday, a man considered the boy’s “uncle,” Noah Herrera, 30, was charged with capital murder in the child’s death. Three others, including David’s grandmother, aunt and a family friend, have been charged with injury to a child.

The Austin team will review a random sample of nearly 200 open cases being handled in the Houston CPS district, which includes Harris and 12 surrounding counties.

The state team, which arrived in Houston late Thursday and will be here until October, will also take a look at how CPS investigators hand off their cases to its Family-Based Safety Services staff once the investigation is completed, and how their caseworkers follow up with those families.

Safety services workers monitor troubled families to make sure they are participating in parenting classes, counseling or other services.

In 2005, lawmakers approved the hiring of 1,828 more CPS workers, including 848 more investigators. The additions, coupled with the agency’s resolve to take fewer children out of their homes, have resulted in a rising case-load for safety services staff.

“I’ve been concerned about (Family-Based Safety Services) and the need for more information about cases,” Heiligenstein said.

This past legislative session, lawmakers approved 116 more safety services workers statewide. On Friday, the commissioner announced that all 116 would be hired immediately.

In addition, Heiligenstein’s team will conduct random, 90-minute interviews of some of the 1,748 CPS workers in the region to get a sense of how people are doing their jobs.

Summary of cases

Estella Olguin, CPS spokeswoman in Houston, said one thing singled out so far is how to get better information to investigators when they are looking at a complaint filed against a family the agency has dealt with before.

Some caseworkers don’t have time to read a family’s case file before knocking on their door, she said.

“They’re going to develop a process that puts a summary of the family’s case history at the fingertips of the caseworker before they initiate the investigation,” Olguin said.

Currently, investigators are sent out with an abbreviated summary of a family’s case history that may not include important details investigators need to know before questioning the abuse victim and parents.

CPS officials announced other initial fixes as the team continues its inquiry into the Houston district’s cases.

First, if a new abuse complaint is filed against a family with a prior CPS history, the caseworker investigating the new complaint will be accompanied by a “special investigator,” someone at CPS who typically has law-enforcement experience, Olguin said.

Also, $1 million has been approved across the state for more drug testing of parents. Olguin said about 80 percent of the child abuse cases handled by workers occur in families with a substance abuse problem.

The Houston-area district is the largest among CPS regions. According to agency records, 21,547 abuse and neglect investigations, involving 35,388 possible victims, were completed during the year that ended Aug. 31, 2008. Of those, the agency was able to confirm neglect or abuse involving 6,365 children.

Why was this woman allowed to adopt a child after a foster child had already died in her care?





Ex-Bakersfield woman faces murder charge

BY STEVE E. SWENSON, Californian staff writer

A former Bakersfield foster mother once arrested on charges of willful child cruelty in Kern County is now facing murder charges in Sacramento County in a child’s death.

Sabrina Banks, 41, formerly known as Sabrina Stafford, was arrested by Bakersfield police in September 2003 after foster child Angelic Clary, 3 months old, was found dead in her home on Castleford Street.

Despite an extensive investigation, no charges were ever filed against her in Angelic’s death.

Deputy District Attorney Scott Spielman said there was no conclusive medical evidence that the infant’s death was either due to abuse or neglect.

He last reviewed the evidence in March 2004.

The Kern County coroner’s office ruled the infant’s death was either natural or accidental. The infant likely breathed in something, possibly vomit, and choked, the coroner’s office found.

The child’s twin sister, Tiffany, was also found in the foster home near Panama Lane and Wible Road with a 104.8-degree fever.

Paramedics took the surviving sister to Memorial Hospital where doctors found her to be hungry, dehydrated, had low sodium in her blood and barbiturates in her systems.

Barbiturates are depressants, normally used as a sleeping aid.

Tiffany was removed from Stafford’s care.

The mother of the twins, Ruth Rodriguez, filed a lawsuit against Kern County, but it was dismissed in January 2005.

Stafford, as she was known then, lost her foster license shortly after Angelic’s death. She reportedly had ties to Visalia.

The Sacramento County case stems from the May 2, 2008, death of 3-year-old Lavender Banks, the adopted daughter of the woman now known as Sabrina Banks.

Sacramento County coroners determined that Lavender died from asphyxia and several blunt force injuries, the Sacramento Bee reported.

The Elk Grove Police Department reported last month that an investigation showed Banks was responsible for the child’s death, and a murder warrant was issued for her.

Banks was arrested Aug. 5 in Visalia.

Banks made news over the adoption of Lavender because Chinese central authorities had refused to approve the adoption on the grounds that Banks was African American.

Many adoptive parents rallied behind Banks and China authorities reversed their stand and approved the adoption, news reports say.

Before the 2003 death of Angelic in Bakersfield, two complaints were filed with Child Protective Services against Stafford.

The first, in January 2002, alleged Stafford hit one of her children on the back and thighs, leaving marks.

Investigators concluded no license violations were committed, CPS documents said.

The second was in May 2002, alleging Stafford burned a 3-year-old child on the hip with a hot spoon.

Stafford denied anything like that ever happened. Her license was voluntarily withdrawn when she went to Visalia, but it was restored in Kern County in early 2003.


Former Foster Mom Arrested In Connection With Child’s Death

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. — A former Kern County foster mother who was once suspected in the death of a foster baby has been arrested on suspicion of murdering her adoptive child near Sacramento.

Sabrina Banks, formerly known as Sabrina Stafford was arrested in Visalia for the May 2008 death of her 3-year-old adopted daughter, Lavender Banks.

Elk Grove police said Banks called 911 and said the child wasn’t breathing.

Paramedics were unable to resuscitate her.

Sacramento County’s Coroner said Lavender died from asphyxia by smothering and multiple blunt force injuries.

In 2003, Banks was arrested in southwest Bakersfield after she called 911 to say one of the twin babies she was fostering wasn’t breathing.

The baby, 3-month-old Angelic, was pronounced dead at the scene.

The other twin, Tiffany, was taken to a nearby hospital with a temperature of 104 degrees, and was found to be malnourished and dehydrated, police said.

Banks was arrested and charged with two counts of felony willful child neglect.

Deputy district attorney Scott Spielman said, during that time, the county forensic pediatrician looked at the toxicology findings and the results were inconclusive as to whether Banks was responsible.

All charges were dropped.

Spielman said the DA is now going to forward the case back to the Bakersfield Police Department and contact police in Elk Grove to see if they can assist each other in their cases, and possibly re-file charges in Kern County for Angelic’s death.




Sept. 18, 2003:


CPS Feeling Heat After Baby Dies In Foster Mother’s Care


Stafford Facing Willful Child Neglect

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. — The death of 3-month-old Angelic Clary has led to the arrest of her foster mother, Sabrina Stafford, KERO reported. All eyes are also on the foster care system in Kern County.

Kern County Child Protective Services has faced criticism before — most recently in a grand jury report that said the system was failing to adequately inspect foster homes.

But CPS is quick to defend the system, saying it is exceeding the state standards by making quarterly visits to foster homes.

CPS Director Beverley Beasley Johnson said when the twins — Angelic and Tiffany — were placed in Stafford’s care a few months ago, the home met CPS requirements.

Stafford, 36, was arrested after police found one of the twins dead and another suffering from a 104.8-degree fever.

According to Bakersfield police detective Mary Degeare, the surviving twin had barbiturates in her system. Degeare said the coroner also found evidence of neglect on the dead baby’s body.

“There were multiple insect bites (on the baby),” Degeare said.

Police said they have found no reason to believe CPS failed Angelic, the dead baby.

Stafford is expected to be arraigned in court Friday on two counts of willful child neglect.

The investigation into Angelic’s death is continuing, KERO reported.

The surviving twin, Tiffany, is in good condition at Memorial Hospital.


Sept. 19, 2003:


Foster Parents Blame Media For Negative Image


Lack Of Foster Families Is Crisis In Kern County

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. — A foster mother arrested Tuesday on charges stemming from the death of a baby was released Friday from police custody.

Police said they are awaiting toxicology reports on the child’s death to decide whether Sabrina Stafford should be charged with willful child neglect. Police do not know when the toxicology reports will be finished, KERO reported.

Police found one of Stafford’s foster children dead in her home Sunday morning. Another child was found with a temperature of nearly 105 degrees — she also appeared to be dehydrated.

Other foster parents said it is extremely rare for substandard parents to be allowed to foster children.

Jennifer Coffman has fostered about 16 children in the last four years. She now has three foster children. Coffman is one of the 408 foster families that support 3,000 foster children in Kern County. She said the problem is not the administration of child welfare services, but the foster family crisis.

“I think they are doing what they can with what they (have),” Coffman said.

Bobbie Rufus, a foster mother for 14 years, said there are several reasons for the shortage of foster parents. She said foster parents are not offered childcare, many of the children have behavorial problems and the media puts negative attention on the foster-care system.

“When something happens, there is an outcry in the community. Where’s the community when they need homes?” Rufus said.

There are countless success stories that are never reported, according to KERO.

Henry, a child Rufus raised since he was a baby, had severe emotional problems and was severely malnourished. Today, at the age of 16, Henry is a varsity football play at Liberty High School with a grade-point average of 3.5 and is involved in a host of school activities.

As for Coffman’s children, her home is spotless, and her children appear to be happy, playful and well-adjusted.

Foster parents said they are hoping more people in the community will reach out, so there will be more successes stories, and fewer children who currently don’t have a chance.

Child welfare officials said they have requested legislation that will provide day care for working foster parents.

























Report offers glimpse into tragic case


SERNA: Mother says she’s trying to straighten out life

BY JAMES BURGER, Californian staff writer

Gina Serna’s family was referred to Kern County Child Protective Services at least three times on charges of neglect before her son Guillermo Alvarez died in June, his body battered and his spleen ruptured by physical abuse.

Now Serna says she is struggling to build a stable life for her four remaining children.

And Child Protective Services is struggling to understand Guillermo’s death and gaps in the service he and his four siblings received from their social worker.

Reports released by the Kern County Department of Human Services this week under new requirements of Senate Bill 39 give a glimpse into how CPS handles cases like Serna’s.

Department Director Pat Cheadle said mistakes were made during a January investigation into allegations of neglect reported against Serna.

The social worker assigned to the case confirmed neglect, Cheadle said, and confirmed that Serna had removed the children from the situation.

But Cheadle said the social worker should have visited the family’s new home on Tangerine Street, should have followed procedures for drug-testing Serna and should have labeled the child neglect case against Serna “substantiated” rather than giving it the less serious “inconclusive” label, Cheadle said.

The worker failed to do those three things, she said.

“I have to say that we should have gone out in January and assured that that home was appropriate. Services could have been warranted,” Cheadle said.

Would Guillermo still be alive if the home had been checked? There is no way to know, Cheadle said.

The reports released by CPS this week show only two referrals — because the agency may only release information about referrals tied to Guillermo, not Serna’s other children.

Serna said there was another case, before Guillermo was born, when she couldn’t pay a power bill. Her power was cut and CPS was called.

Her children were taken away once before, in October 2007.

At that time social workers confirmed that Serna was using methamphetamine regularly and leaving her children with friends and family members for extended periods of time without telling people how to contact her. That neglect was enough to remove the five children from their mother’s care.

Allegations that she was a prostitute in 2007 were not verified in reports released this week.

“I never was a prostitute,” Serna said.

But Serna said she was struggling with drugs and couldn’t care for her children.

“Since I wasn’t stable, I left them with a lady,” she said.

The children were eventually released to Serna’s mother. Child Protective Services closed its case and ended contacts with the family — something Cheadle said the agency was required to do by law.

Serna’s mother later returned her children to her.

Serna said that since 2007 she’s stopped taking drugs, gotten a job and tried to get her life on the right track.

Cheadle said her department had no indication there was potential for the situation on Tangerine Street to turn deadly.

Social workers, she said, never found any evidence that Serna’s children were at risk for the kind of violent physical abuse that killed Guillermo.

Exactly what happened in late June is still not clear from the reports released this week.

Kern County Sheriff’s deputies and prosecutors have accused Serna’s then-boyfriend, Joshuae Preston, 28, of killing the child.

Preston was charged with the crime, but charges were dropped on Aug. 21 and he was released.

Deputy District Attorney David Zulfa said last week he expects the charges to be filed again at a later date.

In the meantime, Serna’s four remaining children are still in county custody. She must work to earn the right to care for them again.

“Mom is supposed to protect the children and it would appear, at the time (in June), that the mother had left the children with a caregiver who was not appropriate,” Cheadle said.

Serna said she’s focused on the future.

“I’m still working. I’ve got another house,” she said. “I have food in my house. As soon as I have my have my kids back I’m going back to school.”

She tries not to focus on the public spotlight her son’s death has cast on her private life.

“I messed up in the past. The best thing I can do is move forward,” she said.

3 Charged in Young Boy’s Death


CONROE, Texas – Three adults are behind bars accused of beating a 3-year-old Montgomery County boy to death.

The boy was living with at least four adults and five other children at a home on Edgefield Lane.

Child Protective Services has investigated the family several times. CPS made its first visit to the family on the day the child was born and the last visit just six days before he died.

Monday evening the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office was called because the three-year-old boy wasn’t breathing.

“When patrol deputies arrived they found EMS had arrived and begun CPR,” said Lt. Dan Norris.

The boy died an hour later at a hospital. Justice of the Peace Edie Connely says the cause of death was blunt abdominal trauma.

An autopsy showed he had broken bones and bruises on his body. Tuesday evening three adults in the home were charged with injury to a child. They include Crystal Tijerina, 26, the boy’s aunt and primary caretaker, her boyfriend, Noah Herrera, 30, and another man who lived there, Steven Paul Chauvin.

The boy’s grandmother, Cristina Tijerina, was booked on an unrelated charge.

“The aunt, the uncle and the grandmother were in a position to protect the child. They never indicated to our staff there was a problem,” said Gwen Carter, spokeswoman Child Protective Services.

CPS says the boy lived with his extended family almost all his life because of complaints his biological mother used drugs and neglected him.

In January 2008, the mother died of an accidental drug overdose. That same year investigators made a visit to investigate neglect complaints involving the aunt’s five children. Then on Aug. 25, CPS did a random check of the home and found everything was fine.

“We had no indication there was a concern of physical abuse with this family,” said Carter.

CPS is reviewing the case to find out what, if anything, changed within the family in the days leading up to the boy’s death and whether caseworkers could have done anything to prevent it.

CPS has removed the aunt’s five children from the home, ranging in age from 2 to 12 years old.

Charges against the three adults could be upgraded.

Three charged in girl’s death

KATY, TX (KTRK) — The parents and grandmother of a baby girl who died months ago now face criminal charges, accused of neglecting serious injuries that eventually took her life. Now some children’s rights advocates are criticizing Child Protective Services for not intervening before it was too late.

Two-year-old Amber MacCurdy died back in April. It’s a death that authorities say could have been prevented. CPS officials paid numerous visits to the girl’s Katy home before her death.

Authorities say the autopsy revealed Amber died from an untreated staph infection. The medical examiner also found she had broken ribs and a fractured arm.

When Amber’s parents and grandmother were arrested and charged with injury to a child, Randy Burton’s first thoughts were “that the case was preventable, that we could have saved this little girl’s life,” he said.

The former prosecutor and child advocate with Justice for Children doesn’t argue charges needed to be filed, but he also wonders why CPS isn’t taking some blame.(Why don’t the Prosecutor make them take the blame and file charges against them…this is 3 dead children with DSS involvement!!!)

Burton said, “To me what’s unforgiveable is that the system we put in place to protect these children when we know that they’re at risk, has failed to do anything to keep them safe.”

That criticism comes in light of the fact CPS visited MacCurdy’s home four times prior to her death. In 2003, when Amber’s then three- year-old brother had wandered from the home, CPS recommended a change of locks.

In 2006, when that same brother was found dirty and unsupervised, the case was investigated, but later closed. In 2007, when Amber’s other brother, a one-year-old, had a fractured arm, a doctor ruled it was not abuse. And in March of this year, when Amber’s older brother was the focus of a child abuse case, a CPS caseworker ruled the allegation unfounded, although Amber’s mother prevented the caseworker from fully inspecting her daughter.

Gwen Carter with Child Protective Services said, “There was no indication from our visit to the home that the other children were in danger.”

The MacCurdy case comes in the wake of the death of four-year-old Emma Thompson, who just weeks before she died with bruises covering her body and a skull fracture, tested positive for herpes. A caseworker decided not to remove her from her home because she didn’t have any other signs of sexual abuse. Then just this week, a three-year-old Montgomery County boy died from blunt force injuries. CPS had visited his guardians three times before his death.

“We are taking a hard look at the work that we do and we are making no excuses, if there is something we could have done,” Carter said.

CPS says it will be reviewing these cases with oversight from Austin, fully aware that people like Randy Burton will be watching, hoping this time things will change.

“We expect and we assume that when we call CPS they are the white knight that charges to the child’s safety,” Burton said. “It’s not what happens.”

All three of the defendants in the MacCurdy case have plead not guilty. The case is moving forward and the defendants are due in court later this week.

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