State releases new details about home where foster child mysteriously died

Child abuse and neglect were rampant in a crowded North Natomas foster home, where children attacked one another, their phone usage was tightly controlled and their foster mother lied to social workers about the chaotic conditions, according to new accusations by the California Department of Social Services.

Former foster provider Tracy Dossman, 42, is the focus of a state legal effort to permanently drive her out of the foster care business – an action Dossman is challenging.

Among the state's most disturbing findings are those involving Amariana Crenshaw, the 4 ½-year-old girl who died mysteriously in Dossman's care in January 2008.

Amariana, the youngest in the home, took the brunt of the violence and mishaps, the documents reveal. The state alleges that in August 2006, Dossman herself hit the little girl, then 3, "on or about the head and/or face," according to state documents.

In all, state investigators cite 17 injuries to Amariana between January 2006 and July 2007. Most were to her head, face and lips, although in April 2006 she allegedly was slapped and pushed down stairs by another child. Two months later, Amariana suffered a leg injury when she was pushed out of a car.

Dossman was unavailable for comment Thursday and has repeatedly declined requests for an interview.

The state began delving into Dossman after articles published in The Bee this year raised questions about the home and the unsolved death of the little girl. Amariana's charred body was pulled from a smoldering rental house owned by Dossman on Jan. 11, 2008, after a Molotov cocktail ignited on or near the child.

The criminal case remains unsolved. Sacramento Police spokesman Sgt. Norm Leong said Thursday that detectives recently investigated several tips, but "nothing proved fruitful." Police plan to review the state's amended complaint against Dossman, Leong said.

Amariana's biological father, Curtis Crenshaw, said he was sickened by the state's new findings.

"I have nightmares now," said Crenshaw, 48, who complained constantly to county Child Protective Services and the Juvenile Court about the girl's injuries. "This stuff is starting to work on me something terrible."

Amariana and her older sister and brother were removed from their mother's care in July 2005 due to her chronic substance abuse, according to documents from the county's Child Protective Services. After Amariana's death, Dossman adopted the girl's older sister, now 10.

The state's new accusation against Dossman, who provided foster care to at least 46 children in all, portrays a home plagued by violent outbursts, bizarre rules and unhealthy living conditions.

Among the findings:

One child whipped another child with a belt, leaving a red mark, on more than one occasion.

Another child was beaten up by two other foster children, suffering three injuries to her head and face. The girl "was hit so hard she passed out," but was not given medical treatment.

One child's shoes were "worn so thin that one could see through the soles." Another child's shoes were too small. A third was dressed in dirty, ill-fitting clothing.

Dossman's home was "either uncomfortably cold in the winter or uncomfortably hot in the summer," the state said. When she did run the heat, she confined it to the upstairs where she and the family slept – all except Amariana, who slept alone downstairs.

Dossman locked the home's refrigerator and pantry, sealing off the children's access to food. She maintained locks on each of their bedroom doors; locking children in their rooms is a violation of state foster care rules.

The state also expressed concerns about Dossman's failure to maintain phone service, which "made it difficult for social workers and other care providers" to reach her. At times, the only working phone was a cell phone controlled by Dossman, which prevented the children from easily making "confidential telephone calls to their social workers, attorneys, family members, etc.," the document states.

A single mother with two biological children, Dossman was certified to work as a foster provider by at least six different private agencies in Sacramento over the years – most recently by Positive Option Family Service. In March, the state ordered Positive Option to revoke her certificate.

Because she is challenging the state's action, the matter is set to go before an administrative law judge in June. Pending a resolution, Dossman's foster children have been removed.

"More than ever, we are convinced that Ms. Dossman should not be a foster provider," said Jeff Hiratsuka, deputy director of the state's Community Care Licensing Division, which is conducting the investigation.

Hiratsuka described the case as the most complex he has seen, given the medical history and volume of documents.

Sacramento County Child Protective Services is conducting an internal investigation into its handling of Amariana's case. The agency's social workers monitored the girl in foster care and, county documents show, accepted Dossman's contention that Amariana was accident prone.

The investigation is "taking much longer than we anticipated due to the complexity," said Ann Edwards-Buckley, director of the county's Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees CPS.

But Edwards-Buckley vowed to share the agency's findings with the public when they are complete.

"We absolutely want to talk about it and we will," she said.

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