February 8, 2008
El Paso County’s Department of Human Services has increased its oversight of local foster care in response to the death of a 2-year-old allegedly killed by her foster mother.
The head of child-welfare investigations for El Paso County DHS is reviewing all reported incidences of injury or medical treatment — no matter how minor — that occur among children in foster homes or institutions.
In El Paso County, the foster-care system is outsourced to child-placement agencies, which are private groups licensed by the state to place children, handle adoptions and other child-welfare services. Previously, agencies reported only serious incidences of injury to DHS, as required by state law.
Jules Lynn Cuneo is charged with murdering 2-year-old Alizé Vick in October. The girl died of severe brain injuries after apparently being thrown against a coffee table. Cuneo is in jail and has a preliminary court hearing scheduled for later this month.
El Paso County DHS conducted an internal review of the case after Alizé’s death. The additional layer of incident review was added about a week later, county DHS Director Barbara Drake said.
Although the change was prompted by the investigation, Drake said, it did not come from specific errors or flawed procedures related to the case.
“It’s something that we saw while we were looking. It wasn’t something necessarily directly related to this terrible outcome,” she said.
DHS has not released details of the incident or previous allegations of child abuse against Cuneo. That is expected as part of a state fatality review due to be completed by the end of this month.
The Sheriff’s Office reported at the time of Alizé’s death that it was looking into previous complaints of child abuse that had been made to DHS. In one of those, an audiotape that captured sounds in which the 300-pound mother seemed to be sitting on the child, did not appear to have been investigated, the Sheriff’s Office said.
El Paso County sent its findings to the Colorado Department of Human Services, which is conducting the state review. The state is also reviewing its child-welfare practices because there have been so many deaths — 16 in the past year — of children who had been in the child-welfare system.
That review is expected to produce long term as well as immediate changes, the state has said.
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