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County fires foster care agency after deaths

March 30, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
Los Angeles County Supervisors zeroed in Tuesday on a foster care agency following the beating death of a toddler. Now more changes are coming to the system in hopes of keeping every child safe. That toddler, Viola Vanclief, is only one of 35 children who have died in L.A. County foster care since 2008.

Tuesday, county supervisors voted to cancel one agency's contract while increasing oversight of children in foster care.

L.A. County says it will now inspect every child in foster care. This comes after the death of 2-year-old Viola Vanclief, who allegedly was beaten to death with a hammer while in the care of foster parents on March 4.

Supervisors cancelled the contract of United Care Incorporated, the foster care agency that placed Vanclief in that home.

Viola Vanclief was placed by United Care in the home of 30-year-old Kiana Barker.

Craig Woods, the executive director of United Care, says even though Barker has a criminal history, she was approved by the state after a background check.

Woods says investigators never found evidence that Barker's boyfriend, James Julian, a convicted felon, was also living in the home.

"Our foster parent, when confronted with the question of whether or not Mr. Julian was residing in the home, stated very adamantly and directly to us that he was not. And we had her sign a statement attesting to that," said Woods Tuesday.

Woods admitted his workers made errors.

The Department of Children and Family Services wants to inspect 57 other foster homes in the county in just one month.

"I will be sending all of my social workers out to see each child that's in one of the FFA homes. There are over 5,000 children in those homes," said Patricia Ploehn, director of the L.A. County Department of Children and Family Services.

That works out to about 160 children per day.

Woods says with limited resources that simply won't be possible. He says punishing his company won't solve the issue.

"The focus is not on the broader problem: Why are so many kids dying? That's what we need to be focusing our attention on," said Woods.

And separately the state is now changing the rules for foster care providers. Starting Saturday, a provider may only house a maximum of six children altogether. Officials say that should improve the quality of care and eliminate people who take on extra children to make money.