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Report: Foster mom previously accused of abuse

March 18, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
The family of a two-year-old girl who died after being beaten with a hammer questioned how the toddler was placed in the South Los Angeles home following a report that the foster mother had been the subject of five child abuse complaints. A South Los Angeles foster mother and her live-in boyfriend are under investigation in the death of a 2-year-old girl who was struck with a hammer.

Thirty-year-old Kiana Barker and her boyfriend, 38-year-old James Julian, were arrested on suspicion of murder, then released after prosecutors sent the case back to the police and coroner for further investigation.

Barker told investigators that she accidentally struck Viola with a hammer while trying to free her after the girl became trapped in a metal bed frame from the torso down on March 4.

The coroner ruled the death a homicide caused by blunt force trauma. There was also bruising to the lower back, buttocks and hips, according to the complaint filed by the Department of Social Services.

"How can you hit a child with a hammer and not take them to the hospital. It just don't make sense to me," the victim's sister, Sonja Vanclief of Columbus, Ohio said in a phone interview. "Just talking about it is just so sad because she was just an innocent child. Children are the purest things in this world, especially when they died young, they come back directly from God."

Multiple agencies are investigating the toddler's death. Her family now questions whether Viola would have been better off with her birth mother, Olivia Vanclief.

The family acknowledges Olivia was bi-polar. The Los Angeles Times reports she was also a drug addict. She is currently in a rehab program, where we cannot reach her.

Yet there were also danger signs with foster mother Kiana Barker. The Los Angeles Times, citing confidential records, reports there were five allegations against her and one substantiated complaint that Barker had severely neglected her own child in 2002.

Under state rules, the inconclusive cases should have been entered into the state database and might have precluded a state license.

The non-profit group United Care Inc. placed Viola with Barker. Child care workers failed to discover that Barker's boyfriend, convicted felon James Julian, was living at the home. Both adults should have been disqualified from caring for a foster child.

"The Department of the Children and Family Services joins the community in mourning the loss of the child Viola," said Neil Zanville, a spokesperson for the L.A. County Department of Children and Family Services.

Department officials pledge to work with every agency to determine what went wrong.

"Safety remains our first and foremost concern and we're committed to keeping children safe whenever possible," said Zanville.

But Viola's family still has many questions and doubts.

"She was a child. She couldn't fend for herself and in actuality they put her in more danger than my mom would have," said Sonja Vanclief.

The child welfare workers who were in charge of checking in on Viola have been placed on desk duty pending the outcome of the investigation.

The LAPD juvenile division is seeking the public's help in the case. Anyone with information was asked to call (213) 486-0580.