Central Texas Toddlers’ Deaths May Tighten Foster Parent Vetting

Alexandria Hill died in August 2013. (File)

AUSTIN (April 5, 2014) The beating deaths of young foster children in Rockdale and Cedar Park are the catalyst for what likely will be a tougher process for vetting prospective foster parents.

New state rules expected to take effect in September will include mandatory interviews with neighbors and additional family members.

The Department of Family and Protective Services has acknowledged an "alarming increase" in foster deaths linked to abuse or neglect.

Eight foster children died from maltreatment in 2013, a fourfold increase from the previous year.

Sherill Small, 54, of Rockdale, was arrested in August 2013 and the Milam County Grand Jury later indicted her for capital murder in the death of Alexandria Hill, 2, who died earlier that month at Scott & White's McLane Children's Hospital after she was taken off life support.

Small was ordered held in the Milam County Jail in lieu of a $100,000 bond, jail records show.

Doctors found that the toddler had “subdural hemorrhaging, subarachnoid hemorrhaging, and retinal hemorrhaging in both eyes,” an arrest warrant affidavit said.

Small was vetted by a private contractor, Texas Mentor, to which she admitted she was placed into foster care at the age of 2, according to a report released in November 2013.

In the report, Sherill Small admitted that, “her father was a heavy drinker, and when drinking was verbally abusive towards his mother.”

The study reported that Small had three children with two men and a 15-year marriage to a third man before she married Clemon Small in 2007.

Small later said in the report that the most traumatic memory of her childhood “was when one of her foster homes made her sit out in the dark, on the front porch, in the middle of winter in Missouri.”

Still Texas Mentor later found in the report that, “Mr. and Mrs. Small appear genuine in their motivation for providing foster care in their home.”

Jacob Robb Salas has been charged in the death of 1-year-old Orien Destiny Hamilton, who died in October 2013 after he pressed her head between his knee and the floor, a police complaint said.

Salas, who remains in the Williamson County Jail, had been investigated on three separate occasions for child neglect and had been barred from being with his biological children and with the infant state records showed.

The Austin American-Statesman reported that a caseworker with state Child Protective Services didn’t act when Salas was seen in April 2013 at the Cedar Park foster home where Orien lived.

The infant's foster mother told CPS that Salas did not live at the home, despite various records that showed that he did.

Various court documents show that Salas, listed as his address the suburban Austin home, but the CPS caseworker who previously conducted a welfare check accepted the assertion of the foster mother that Salas lived elsewhere.

Texas has 220 foster care contractors statewide.

Other new rules aim to increase the odds of identifying adults who have a propensity for violence and are likely to be around a prospective foster home.