Children dying in foster care spurs new set of rules

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — Last year, the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) decided to take a closer look at its policies after eight foster children in Texas died from mistreatment, which was more than the previous four years combined.

After holding six statewide forums at the end of 2013 with hundreds of providers who place children in homes, the DFPS council on Friday approved a new set of safety-related rules.

According to the DFPS, the new rules — which are the first major revision of CPA rules since 2007 — are designed to more thoroughly screen potential foster parents and other caregivers and more adequately protect foster children.

The rules for new and existing foster homes apply to the state’s 220 foster child-placing agencies (CPAs), which are licensed by DFPS to operate networks of foster homes and to recruit, screen, train, and monitor the homes.

After a public comment period, the new rules will take effect on Sept. 1.

For new foster homes, in addition to existing requirements (for example, interviews and criminal background checks of all adult family members and a safety assessment of the home) the rules require:

  • An additional interview of a family member not living in the home.
  • Two additional interviews of neighbors, clergy, school employees, and/or other community members.
  • Interviews of all adult children of foster parents.
  • An assessment of personal relationships of foster parents, and review of household finances.
  • Review of any law enforcement agency calls to the foster home for the past two years.
  • Verification of identity and background checks for any person designated as an emergency caregiver.

The new rules also require CPAs to more closely monitor existing foster homes for major changes in the household, including job losses, marriages, divorces, or the addition of any household members or frequent visitors.

So far in FY 2014, which began Sept. 1, 2013, one child, 11-month-old Orien Hamilton, has died from abuse while in foster care.

Background on Orien Hamilton

DFPS officials said Hamilton was removed from a San Antonio home on Oct. 31, 2012, after her mother tested positive for methamphetamines. Officials placed her in a foster home in San Antonio and then placed her with an aunt, Heather Hamilton, in Cedar Park on Dec. 20, 2012.

In 2013, 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.

The aunt was verified as a foster parent by Lutheran on Oct. 7.

Hamilton was injured on Oct. 19, and passed away at Dell Children’s Hospital the next day.

According to Cedar Park police, the foster parent’s boyfriend, Jacob Salas, 32, admitted to placing the child’s head between his knee and the floor causing injury to the child’s head.

Salas is currently being held at Williamson County Jail on capital murder charges.

CPS says the month before the child’s death, the child’s biological father alerted them that he was concerned about who was also living in the home with his daughter.

“The biological father had concerns that Jacob Salas was living in the home with his daughter and stated those concerns to the CPS case worker,” said DFPS spokesperson Julie Moody.

DFPS says the case worker followed protocol and did a background check on Salas which revealed several red flags including two family violence charges.

According to CPS the case worker responded to Heather Hamilton’s home within 24 hours of receiving the complaint and asked Hamilton if Salas was living there, but officials say she lied.

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