Sacramento foster mother loses her license following Bee investigation

More than two years after Amariana Crenshaw died in foster care, her tiny body burned beyond recognition, the state of California has cut off her Sacramento foster mom from caring for vulnerable children.

The state Department of Social Services announced Wednesday it has ordered that Tracy Dossman, 41, be decertified as a foster provider.

Saying that her foster home "constitutes a threat to the health and safety" of children, the state instructed Dossman's foster family agency to permanently remove her from its network of providers.

The action by the state's Community Care Licensing Division follows a Bee investigation published last month into the unsolved death of the 4 1/2-year-old Sacramento girl.

Amariana's body was found about 3:30 a.m. on Jan. 11, 2008, inside a smoldering rental property owned by Dossman near South Natomas. Police and federal agents determined that at least one Molotov cocktail, or homemade firebomb, was thrown from "outside the house" and landed on or near the child, engulfing her in flames.

After the fire, Sacramento County child welfare officials staunchly supported Dossman, portraying her as the victim of a random act of violence.

But The Bee's investigation raised new questions about the cold case – including the belief by some forensic experts that Amariana already was dead when the fire broke out. Medical records and other documents obtained by The Bee also showed that the child suffered numerous injuries in Dossman's care and had failed to gain weight and develop normally in the foster home.

In its own investigation, triggered by The Bee's inquiries, the state concluded that Dossman failed to adequately supervise children and keep them safe.

"Some information came to light in media reports that prompted further investigation on our part of her ability to provide proper care for foster children," said Lizelda Lopez, spokeswoman for the Department of Social Services. "We no longer believe she should have foster children in her care."

Dossman, who has repeatedly declined interview requests from The Bee, did not respond to phone messages left Wednesday.

Her agency, Positive Option Family Service, said through a spokeswoman that it complied with the state's order and revoked Dossman's certificate. Two teenagers were removed from the home in North Natomas, according to the agency's executive director, Joseph Kovill.

Dossman has the right to challenge the state's decision before an administrative law judge, Lopez said.

Home sparked complaints

Dossman's home has been the subject of numerous complaints over the years to state licensing officials, who cited her twice while Amariana was alive for sealing the refrigerator with a bicycle lock. Dossman, a single mother, also was cited for refusing to run heat in the winter and for deadbolting the children's doors and bathrooms.

Despite the violations, Dossman continued to be a certified provider. After the mysterious fire in early 2008, all five surviving foster children were returned to Dossman's care within months.

The state continued to investigate complaints in the home, including a rape allegation that was deemed last November to be "inconclusive."

"At least this is a step forward," said Amariana's biological father, Curtis Crenshaw, who lost his parental rights in 2007 but fought to get his daughter out of foster care. "This should let people know there was something foul going on."

In its legal accusations against Dossman, seeking to shut her down, the state cited both the conditions of her home and Amariana's frequent injuries as evidence of improper care.

The state also accused Dossman of lying to a Sacramento County social worker about the locked refrigerator and concluded that Dossman lacked the "reputable and responsible character to remain a certified foster parent."

Lopez of the Department of Social Services said Sacramento County Child Protective Services was "very cooperative" in the state's investigation.

But CPS also has come under scrutiny for its handling of the case, including the revelation that a CPS supervisor had a close relationship with Dossman and was buying the rental home at the time of the fire.

Laura McCasland, spokeswoman for the county's Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees CPS, said Wednesday that the county had stopped placing children with Dossman before the state acted.

She could provide no further details.

Agency ordered to improve

Amariana and her older brother and sister were placed in Dossman's home in mid-2005 after being removed from their biological mother, Anisha Hill, because of her "chronic substance abuse," according to county records.

Even with five bedrooms, it was a full house.

Between July 2005 and Amariana's death in early 2008, the foster home included six foster kids, plus Dossman's two biological children and a nephew.

Dossman has cared for at least 46 children since 2003 by working under various foster family agencies, or private entities that recruit, train and oversee their own roster of providers. County social workers are still charged with monitoring placements in these homes.

Individual counties, including Sacramento, also can directly license foster homes. With agency providers, both the state and the nonprofit agency have the authority to decertify a home.

The state also had concerns about Positive Option Family Service, ordering it last December to make numerous improvements or risk losing its license.

Last last year, the state determined that Positive Option, which has 54 certified homes in the Sacramento region, had racked up an "excessive number of complaints" that required a closer monitoring of its files and placements of children. The state put the agency under a "plan of correction," and Lopez said Tuesday that Positive Option moved swiftly to address the state's concerns.

As part of the plan, Positive Option – which certified Dossman twice between 2005 and 2007 – went back and re-evaluated all its homes.

Unlike the state, the agency did not see a need to immediately decertify Tracy Dossman but instead determined that her home fell in a middle ground in terms of quality of care.

Lopez explained that foster providers who are decertified for "cause" cannot hop to another agency and get back into business, since fingerprint checks will screen them out.

Dossman was among those providers in California who frequently change agencies, often amid ongoing investigations. However, until now, Dossman had never been decertified for cause.

Anisha Hill said she was relieved that Dossman can no longer care for foster children. But, she said, she is worried about her older daughter, now 10, who was adopted by Dossman after the fire. Hill said she wants the girl returned to her biological family.

Lopez said the revocation of a foster mom's certificate would have no direct bearing on her biological or adopted children.