Crime & Justice

LA County Board of Supervisors considers canceling foster contract after girl's death

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors will consider today canceling its contract with a foster care placement agency that oversaw a foster home where a 2-year-old girl died earlier this month.

Viola Vanclief's death has been ruled a homicide by the Los Angeles County Coroner's Office. The girl was a foster child in the care of a South Los Angeles couple, Kiana Barker, 30, and her boyfriend, James Julian, 38.

The couple were arrested on suspicion of beating the girl to death, apparently with a hammer, but they were released when prosecutors referred the case back to police for additional investigation.

Patricia Ploehn, director of the county Department of Children and Family Services, wrote in a report to the Board of Supervisors that she was recommending that the county sever ties with United Care Inc., which placed the girl in the foster home under a contract with Los Angeles County.

Ploehn noted in the report that United Care was placed on a "Do Not Use" status by the county after the girl's death. She also noted that the county's contract "allows termination of the contract when the county deems such action, in its sole discretion, to be in its best interest."

But Craig Woods, executive director of United Care, told ABC7 his company was being used as a scapegoat for larger problems within the county's foster care system.

He said his staffers visited the foster home four times in the last month, and there was no evidence of a man living there. But he said the move to cancel his company's contract is "a done deal."

"They met behind closed doors and I understand that the director recommended that the contract be terminated," he told ABC7. "She didn't talk to me. No one has talked to me from the county about this. It's just been ... their rush to judgment."

He added, "We monitor our homes as closely as we possibly can."

According to an investigation by the Los Angeles Times, Barker had been the subject of five previous child-abuse complaints.

After Viola's March 4 death, Barker told investigators that the toddler had been trapped in a bed frame and that she accidentally struck the child with a hammer while trying to free her, according to coroner's records cited by The Times.

The records say Viola had multiple bruises on her body, The Times reported. The death was ruled a homicide caused by blunt-force trauma.