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Child’s death causes concern over foster care system

CINCINNATI – More thorough investigation and better communication among agencies could have prevented the placement of a 3-year-old developmentally disabled boy with the foster parents accused of killing him, according to a state report released yesterday.

“The death of any child is tragic; to die under circumstances alleged in this case is only more so,” according to the report by the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. “This case beckons reform of Ohio’s system to better serve all foster children.”

Liz and David Carroll Jr. are accused of leaving Marcus Fiesel alone in a closet for two days, wrapped in a blanket and packing tape. Authorities say the boy was dead when they returned to their home in Clermont County from a family reunion in Kentucky.

The couple reported the boy missing Aug. 15, triggering a massive search for the child who supposedly had wandered off in a public park. The Carrolls were arrested Aug. 28 and have pleaded not guilty to murder charges.

The report, which says the Carrolls were unqualified to care for the boy, details problems in handling his case and the private agency that recommended the Carrolls. It also makes a broad range of recommendations that include increased training and widened background checks for foster parents.

“We cannot create a fail-safe system, but I believe we can create a better system,” said Barbara Riley, director of the state department.

State lawmakers have said the report will help in developing reform legislation.

About 10,000 children are in foster care in Ohio. Richard Wexler, executive director of the Virginia-based National Coalition for Child Protection Reform, said authorities should do more to keep children with their birth parents.

“They want to add more requirements, when they’re not following the existing requirements,” Wexler said. “All this tinkering is sound and fury that ignores the elephant in the room.”

The Carrolls were certified to be foster parents through Lifeway for Youth, a private agency that handles placements for a number of counties. Lifeway officials have said the Carrolls misled them about their backgrounds.

The state report alleges more than a dozen failures by the agency, saying the home study and follow-up visits were inadequate, that the agency didn’t check references on the Carrolls and that the agency overbilled the state for training reimbursements.

The state department is reviewing Lifeway for Youth operations across the state to decide whether to re-certify the agency, and also will scrutinize the agency’s billing claims, the report states.

A message seeking comment was left yesterday for Michael Berner, executive director of the Sharonville, Ohio-based agency, which has been certified in Ohio since 1994.

The report recommends increased training of foster parent applicants and those who assess them, thorough background checks that would include credit and residence histories, drug testing of applicants, data-sharing among agencies, courts and law enforcement, and increased state staffing for foster-care oversight.

The report found that Butler County Children Services complied with state requirements in its handling of the boy, removed from his birth mother in Middletown in April. The county has appointed an independent task force to probe the agency.

The state report says Clermont County Children’s Services didn’t make sure Liz Carroll had completed training in the time required and didn’t check all her references. Tim McCartney, director of the county’s department of Job and Family Services, said yesterday that additional references were checked when two original references couldn’t be reached.

McCartney said Clermont County took actions in September that include checking a court information system for any offenses involving foster-home adults and doubling the number of annual home inspections from two to four, three of them unannounced.

Authorities have said the Carrolls had had financial problems and also failed to report a domestic violence charge in June against David Carroll that was dropped later but could have led to more investigation of the family.

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