How did this happen?
3:20 PM PDT, March 18, 2010
SOUTH LOS ANGELES — A day care owner under investigation in the death of a 2-year-old girl who authorities say was struck with a hammer was reportedly the subject of five child abuse complaints.
Child welfare officials concluded that 30-year-old Kiana Barker, who is also a foster mother, severely neglected her own child in 2002, according to confidential records reviewed by the Los Angeles Times.
Four other child abuse complaints were lodged against Barker in subsequent years, but social workers were unable to substantiate the complaints, the records show.
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Jeff Hiratsuka, head of the state Community Care Licensing Division, which is responsible for licensing foster parents, could not explain why the 2002 substantiated-neglect probe did not disqualify Barker when she applied in 2005 for a child-care license and in 2009 for foster-care certification.
It was unclear whether Barker’s history had not been reported to the state database by county workers, or if it had been reported and overlooked, Hiratsuka said.
Barker and her boyfriend, James Julian, 38, were arrested last week on suspicion of murder in connection with the March 4 death of Viola Vanclief, according to Los Angeles police records.
They were released two days later with no charges filed. They remain under investigation.
Barker told investigators that Vanclief became trapped in a bed frame and she accidentally struck the girl with a hammer while trying to free her from the contraption.
But coroner’s records show the child had several bruises. The death was deemed a homicide.
Barker worked for the nonprofit foster care agency United Care Inc., which contracts with Los Angeles County to provide shelter for abused and neglected children.
She has two biological children, ages 6 months and 9 years old, and two foster children, including Vanclief.
State regulators decertified Barker as a foster parent last week.
United Care Inc. has been repeatedly cited in recent years after caregivers choked, hit and whipped their charges with a belt, the Times reported.
In 2007, a foster child drowned while swimming unsupervised in a pool. The foster mother was distracted during a family reunion, according to records.
The agency is not receiving new placements and all county social workers involved in Vanclief’s case have been placed on desk duty while the investigation continues.
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