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L.A. County supervisors terminate relationship with foster care agency [Updated]

Los Angeles County supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to terminate their relationship with the troubled foster care agency that placed a 2-year-old girl with a woman who is now under investigation in connection with her death.

United Care, which oversaw 88 homes with 216 foster children under contract with the county, had been repeatedly cited in recent years after caregivers choked, hit or whipped their charges with a belt. In 2007, a foster child drowned while swimming unsupervised in a pool.

Craig Woods, United’s executive director, said the citation record obscured his agency’s strengths and urged the county to conduct a fuller investigation before severing ties.

“Terminating United Care’s contract will not accomplish what is needed to reform the system,” he said. “United Care has a stellar 21-year track record of partnership with the county.”

The foster mother, Kiana Barker, 30, and her boyfriend, James Julian, 38, were arrested earlier this month on suspicion of murder in connection with Viola Vancielf's death, according to Los Angeles police records. They were released two days later, with no charges filed.

Police are continuing to investigate the couple. Barker, a resident of South Los Angeles, told investigators Viola was trapped in a bed frame when she accidentally struck the child with a hammer while trying to free her, according to coroner's records. 

Viola had multiple bruises on her body, records show. The county coroner deemed the death a homicide. During supervisors’ questioning of Woods and their deliberations about whether to terminate United, new details emerged about the missed warning signs that preceded the death.

Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said his vote to terminate United was at least partially supported by Woods' admission that the agency’s social workers made errors during visits to the Barker home. According to Yaroslavsky, they did not report that many of the home’s rooms were padlocked shut and there were video cameras in most of the rooms and corridors.

The purpose of the video cameras was not discussed. Additionally, Yaroslavsky said he was troubled that Barker was certified as a foster parent despite a criminal record. According to a Times review, Barker was convicted of felony theft in 2002.

The newspaper disclosed earlier that Barker also had been the subject of five child abuse complaints, including one substantiated case involving her biological child.

Julian had a record of armed robbery, but neither United Care nor the state regulator who licenses foster homes was aware he was living in the home, state records show.

Woods said his agency had been aware of Barker’s criminal record but did not believe it was a problem because she had obtained a decision from state regulators that it did not pose a danger.

“I would say that as many as half of the foster homes in Los Angeles County have a criminal background,” Woods said.

Supervisor Gloria Molina said she did not believe that number and would look into the matter. [Updated at 6:13 p.m.: A California Department of Social Services spokeswoman, Lizelda Lopez, said that only 4.67% of foster family agency parents have received an exemption for a crime that would otherwise bar them.]

Woods also faulted the county for missing the warning signs, saying the county was in the final stages of approving Barker to adopt Viola.

“Miss Barker was less than 30 days away from adopting this child. That adoption was being managed by DCFS,” Woods said. “That adoption home study is supposed to be a lot more extensive and intrusive than a foster home certification.”

-- Garrett Therolf at the L.A. County Hall of Administration

Read more in The Times' investigation: Innocents Betrayed

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Comments () | Archives (11)

So who is overseeing the 216 children in those 88 homes that were managed by United Care?

When is Gloria Molina going to do something more substantial than "look into it?"

How many children have to die in foster care before LA County Supervisors take immediate and concrete action to save them from the pain, misery and suffering they are being subjected to at the hands of these public agencies?

I cannot wait to vote out every supervisor. They disgust me.

Gloria Molina needs to believe this, because many foster care parents are in it for the money. Or are too wacked to have a stable enough relationship w/a quality person to create their own functional, biological family. Gloria Molina needs to learn to shut up.

can we taxpayers TERMINATE OUR relationship with the county "supervisors" , PLEASE!

"caregivers choked, hit or whipped their charges(CHILDREN?) with a belt"

Baby killers! Some county workers should be fired or jailed, maybe supervisors, too.

This is so disgusting. After all the horrendous stories across this country that show how pitifully inadequate the foster care system is how is it possible that orphanages are not being discussed? Foster care is not working.

I worked with a foster care agency for many years, and the reports that I made about certain foster parents went "unfounded". I had many concerns about these foster parents, and I was told, by the supervisor, that I needed to apologize to the foster parents for complaining about them because I, I, had made the mistake and had been unprofessional by speaking in English to the foster child in front of the foster parent. As I was told, "this foster parent takes the most difficult kids, and she does a great job with them." Yet this particular foster parent had a record with the most runaways. Wonder why? It's not quality they look for in foster parents, it's quantity, to get more foster children in the agency, which translates to more money for them. It's really sad. I was very good at what I did, but it was discouraging to see the way these children were treated and the supervisors didn't listen and wouldn't do anything to stop these foster parents from abusing children.

It sure sounds like the county's background procedures leave much to be desired. What ever happened to the county's claims that it was fixing problems around employees and contractors with serious criminal records working in hospitals and elsewhere? That was supposed be be fixed last year. If it hasn't been fixed who dropped the ball?

How is it that the two suspects in the little girl's death are not in jail? The circumstances of her highly suspicious death and the "explanations" of the suspects are far from credible! Do your jobs, you miserable beaurocrats or if it's too much for you get the hell out of the way and let someone else do it. I also can't wait for voting time!

We, the taxpayers, need to severe all ties with the Board of Supervisors. They must go!

So if the two charged are released who is being charged with murdering this child? This is disgusting and heads need to roll. This favorite line of "look into it" is just another way of saying "they ain't doing 'ish" about it..


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