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State faults foster-care contractor in girl's death


Officials cite 'gross failure'; firm's lawyer denies allegations

Robert T. Garrett

The Dallas Morning News

State regulators say an Austin-based foster-care contractor was guilty of "gross failure" in protecting a 6-year-old girl who was fatally beaten in a DeSoto home last month.

An investigation found that Therapeutic Family Life "directly contributed" to Katherine Frances' death when it ignored reports of abuse by a 14-year-old boy in the foster home, according to a letter from the state to the company dated Dec. 21.

The letter was released to The Dallas Morning News this week.

The boy, who has been charged with Katherine's murder, is the foster parents' biological son.

According to the letter, the state said Therapeutic improperly returned the victim and her three siblings to the home even though it knew the 14-year-old "had been accused of harming them." The girl suffered her fatal head injuries eight days after she was returned.

The company knew the 14-year-old would watch the other children while his parents worked several jobs, the letter said.

"The [child placing] agency was aware that the foster father worked long hours and the foster mother worked two full-time jobs," Angela Nowell, a supervisor for the state Child Care Licensing division, wrote to Leon Smith, president of Therapeutic.

The letter does not say how the company, which managed the foster home, knew about the abuse accusation.

Patrick Crimmins, spokesman for the state Department of Family and Protective Services, would say only that, "That information came out in the course of the investigation." Eli Bell, a lawyer for Therapeutic, on Wednesday dismissed allegations in the letter as "inaccurate and inappropriate." He said he will appeal six deficiencies cited by the state: recruitment of irresponsible foster parents; corporal punishment; improper discipline by a minor; lax supervision; abuse; and failure to protect children's rights.

"We believe the investigators missed it," Mr. Bell said.

"We believe they are attributing knowledge [the company] did not have.

And we believe that they do not have a complete grasp of the facts here." He declined to elaborate.

Therapeutic has placed foster children for the state since 1993 and now has about 1,000 foster children in its homes.

In September, it began managing most of the foster homes previously run by Mesa Family Services Inc.

Mesa, which has relinquished its child-placing license, recruited homes in which three foster children died between August 2005 and last month.

They included the DeSoto home where police say the 14-year-old boy body-slammed Katherine, head first, after getting angry that she wet her bed. She died at a Dallas hospital.

An earlier search warrant affidavit disclosed that the boy had encouraged a fight between Katherine and her younger sister on Nov. 25, which caused the state to briefly remove the foster children.

Each of the foster parents entrusted with Katherine and her siblings have filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy since June 2005.

Their names are being withheld because they share the same last name as the accused minor.

Mr. Crimmins said the state doesn't require its child-placing contractors to check court records and obtain tax returns of prospective foster parents.

He said new minimum standards that took effect this month require foster parents' incomes to be verified.

E-mail rtgarrett@dallasnews.com

2007 Jan 11