Target: Texas Department of Family and Protective Services
Goal: Increase supervision of all agencies and individuals responsible for the care of children to prevent tragedies like the recent death of a two-year-old child
After several days held in a coma, two-year-old Alexandra Hill died at the hands of her foster mother from various injuries to the head. Police have charged her foster mother, Sherill Small, who initially told authorities it was an accident, with capital murder. Recent investigations uncovered that Texas Mentor, the company responsible for placing the child, failed to order criminal background checks on several regular visitors to the family. The incident reveals startling flaws in agency supervision and accountability. It also raises serious concerns over the screening process for foster parents. To prevent another tragic occurrence like this one, a direct line of accountability needs to be established for the death of Alex Hill. Demand increased supervision of foster care agencies and penalize authorities for mistakes and lapses.
Over the last two years, Texas Mentor has been cited at least a dozen times for failure to perform background checks on individuals who had regular interaction with foster children. Most shockingly, Texas Child Protective Services does not fine agencies for any such errors, which removes a degree of incentive to maintain quality, responsible care. But it isn’t just Texas that has problems ensuring proper care for our children. One report estimates that children under foster care might be ten times as likely to die than children under care of their own parents.
Alexandra Hill was taken from her biological parents for “neglectful supervision.” Authorities cited physical and mental health problems as primary reasons, as well as marijuana use. Interesting to note, however, is that Alexandra’s foster father, Clemon Small, had four misdemeanor convictions, two of which were for the sale of marijuana. Sherill Small herself had an outstanding arrest warrant for passing a hot check. But the largest flag raised is the 2002 conviction against their daughter Tracy Forester for aggravated kidnapping during a gas station robbery. Frequent contact with a kidnapper should have disqualified the Smalls from foster care.
Criminal background checks on any individual that has regular contact with children in foster care should be absolutely mandatory. Contractors should be held accountable and punished for lapses and failures to ensure quality care. Demand that the Department of Family and Protective Services maintain strict oversight of foster care agencies. Insist that they hold Texas Mentor responsible for not taking all appropriate steps to prevent the death of Alexandra Hill.
Dear Texas Department of Family and Protective Services,
All too painful is the possibility that Alexandra Hill’s death might have been prevented. And yet, because all necessary background checks were not performed– checks that would most likely have barred Sherill Small and her family from taking custody of the child– neither Texas Mentor nor Child Protective Services can say that all measures were taken to prevent this tragedy.
When a child in foster care dies, we cannot afford to take a ‘things happen,’ ‘people make mistakes’ attitude. In cases like this, we need to attribute blame. If not, what’s to prevent more children from coming to harm? While neglect was not Alexandra’s cause of death, neglect may certainly have led up to that dreadful moment. Texas Mentor, and all other private industry contractors in charge of placing foster children, need to be held accountable. It is their job to ensure background checks have been ordered on all individuals in close contact with foster children. It is their duty to make sure children are given adequate care. And when they fail in these duties, government needs to penalize all responsible parties so that such lapses do not happen again. Sometimes it may be necessary to terminate contracts; at the very least enact fines.
I urge the Department of Family and Protective Services to increase supervision of all agencies and individuals responsible for the care of our children. Do not shrug off small lapses. It is the chain of seemingly trivial problems that leads to catastrophe. Demand accountability from Texas Mentor, and verify that other agencies are in line with standards of quality and safety. There are over 11,500 children in foster homes across Texas. It is your job to protect them.
[Your Name Here]
Photo credit: HHCUkraine via Wikimedia Commons