Courts & Crime

Investigation finds troubling signs in death of foster child

Tracy Dossman considered herself a specialist in providing foster care to teenage boys.

She wasn't sure she wanted to take small children.

And she definitely wasn't sure she wanted Anisha Hill's children, according to a 2006 state licensing evaluation.

"Ms. Dosman (sic) was apprehensive about caring for the children because she knew that the mother could be extremely difficult," according to a Child Protective Services report prepared a year earlier for the juvenile court.

Two years have passed since Dossman found herself at the center of "every parent's worst nightmare," according to her foster family agency. On the night of Jan. 11, 2008, one of Hill's biological children – 4 1/2-year-old Amariana Crenshaw – was killed while in her care.

Today, the official investigation languishes.

But The Bee's own investigation has found numerous puzzles, including injuries that plagued the child in foster care. And, The Bee has learned, two CPS workers faced criticism for their close relationships with Dossman.

By piecing together hundreds of pages of state licensing documents and social worker narratives, The Bee found that between January 2006 and July 2007, Amariana Crenshaw suffered injuries to her head and face on at least five separate occasions.

First came an eye injury. Then a split and swollen lip. Then two more lip injuries, followed by a pink, swollen eye and scabbed lip.

The child then suffered a sixth injury – to her right leg – that noticeably affected her walking.

Nearly six months later, Amariana's body was pulled from a burning house on Sweet Pea Way near South Natomas. Police say she was the victim of at least one Molotov cocktail thrown through the window of the rental home, owned by Dossman.

No single document lists all the injuries that preceded her death, or questions whether there might be a pattern.

Yet of the six foster children in Dossman's care, only Amariana appeared to be getting hurt frequently.

Of the various people whose job was to document life in the foster home, only a state licensing analyst – not trained as a social worker – raised suspicions in writing about Amariana's facial injuries and scars, the documents show.

Others were convinced that the injuries were Amariana's doing or were being fabricated or exaggerated by her bitter biological parents.

"Amariana is still very accident-prone and gets hurt easily," according to a 2007 report from a social worker for one of Dossman's foster family agencies.

The county echoed that assessment over and over – including two months before the child's death, when Amariana was reported to have "multiple bruises and marks."

A CPS worker investigated the injuries. " … (C)onsistent of normal childhood play," the social worker concludes.

The social worker noted something else: Dossman believed the abuse complaint was personal because, once again, a family friend was "mad at her."

Tracy Dossman's two-story, five-bedroom residence in North Natomas is spacious. Ten rooms, three baths, a two-car garage.

A single mother with two biological children, Dossman has cared for foster kids since at least 2003, according to state records. Over the years, the state says, she has cared for at least 46 children, ages 2 to 18. She has been certified by six different agencies since 1995, and by one of them twice.

Dossman, who declined to be interviewed by The Bee, continues to care for foster children. And, she has the continued support of her agency at the time of the death, Positive Option Family Service.

"In general, (Positive Option) has had a good experience with Ms. Dossman due to her obvious affection for the children and willingness to comply with standards and requirements," the agency said in a written response to The Bee.

From the very beginning, Dossman, now 41, had chosen to work through private, nonprofit foster family agencies, instead of getting licensed directly by the county.

In July 2005, when Dossman was on her fourth agency, 2-year-old Amariana Crenshaw came into her life.

Read the full story at the Sacramento Bee.