The Public Eye

Death raises questions about Elk Grove foster home

Allenia Bledsoe
Allenia Bledsoe

A 2-year-old girl placed in an Elk Grove foster home died of acute pneumonia, the Sacramento County Coroner’s Office concluded in a report that has done little to quell the concerns of the girl’s birth family.

The coroner’s 10-page report details the examination of Allenia Bledsoe, including the finding of bacteria in her lungs leading to pneumonia, but does not address the circumstances of her illness or the response by her foster mother. The report about the Nov. 7 death was completed late last month.

In response to questions from The Sacramento Bee, Coroner Kimberly Gin said her office interviewed the foster mother and learned she did not take Allenia to a doctor.

“The child was sick with some type of cold or virus that all the kids in the house had,” Gin said. “She seemed to get better, as did everyone else. The day she died she wasn’t exhibiting any symptoms at all.”

Allenia’s bacterial infection was likely the result of the virus that was going around the house, she said.

For Allenia’s birth parents, the report only adds to the questions they’ve had since the toddler’s death, when they were told Allenia woke up upset early in the morning and was found unresponsive a few hours later.

“She didn’t have a fighting chance,” said her mother, Jayme Wimberly. “I want to know why they didn’t bring her to the hospital.”

Allenia’s grandmother, Alicia Bledsoe, said the family is upset because neither the county nor the foster-care agency responsible for Allenia will discuss the circumstances of her death in any detail. “They should have brought her to the hospital,” she said.

At her home, foster mother Latasha Norman was reluctant to discuss Allenia’s death last week. Asked why she didn’t take Allenia to a doctor, she said, “Because I didn’t know she was sick. I didn’t know she had pneumonia.”

She then shut her front door, refusing to answer any more questions. Several children could be seen in her home.

Denise Lowery, administrator of New Horizons Foster Care Agency in West Sacramento, confirmed that Norman continues to work for the agency. She said investigations by the state Department of Social Services and county Child Protective Services found that Norman had done nothing wrong.

She said foster children often get sick without going to a doctor, unless the illness continues, and then the agency recommends that foster parents take them to a physician.

“I feel awful for them,” Lowery said of Allenia’s family.

Two pediatricians contacted by The Bee for their professional opinions said they did not want to get involved in a potential legal matter.

Coughing, fever, chills and shortness of breath are the most common symptoms of pneumonia, according to the American Lung Association. While not common, young children can die from pneumonia, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Gin said it is not unusual for parents who have lost children to say they exhibited no symptoms of the illness that killed them.

“I can’t say the child did not have symptoms,” she said of Allenia. “I can only say that we are often told this story of no symptoms.”

Laura McCasland, a CPS spokeswoman, said she could not comment about the agency’s investigation because it found no evidence of neglect or abuse by the foster mother.

Michael Weston, a Department of Social Services spokesman, said he could not discuss anything about Norman’s record as a foster mother because of confidentiality laws.

But Weston was able to discuss her record as a provider of other child care services. Norman has been licensed to provide child care since 2002 in Sacramento and Solano counties and had licensing problems with her Playful Scholars business around the time of Allenia’s death, Weston said.

On Nov. 10, three days after Allenia’s death, the department responded to a complaint that she was providing child care without a license, records show. Sacramento County, which then licensed day care facilities, had revoked her license because she had failed to pay a license fee, Weston said. The state, which recently took over licensing duties from the county, upheld the complaint and told her to reapply, Weston said. She was given a child care license from the state last month.

Norman has a history of financial problems associated with her child care business, bankruptcy records show. She filed for bankruptcy protection twice in 2013. Her income barely covered expenses and she had more than $100,000 in debt, most of it owed to the Internal Revenue Service for failing to pay income taxes five years in a row, according to records she filed with the court.

She also listed a $12,000 debt to Dana Hurkens of Rancho Cordova from the settlement of a 2007 civil case in Sacramento Superior Court. Hurkens said Norman was renting her building for her child care business and moved out without telling her or turning off the water.

“She said, ‘I can’t operate. I’m going under,’” Hurkens said. “The pipes froze and burst and caused $200,000 in damage. We couldn’t use the building for three years.”

Call The Bee’s Brad Branan, (916) 321-1065. Follow him on Twitter @BradB_at_SacBee.

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