Austin-area man charged after death of infant in state custody


by and KRIS BETTS / KVUE News

Posted on October 22, 2013 at 8:04 AM

CEDAR PARK, Texas -- An 11-month-old girl in state care has died after being taken to the hospital with skull injuries and bruises.

Scott Carroll with Lutheran Social Services (LSS), the agency overseeing the child’s care, told KVUE News Orien Hamilton died Sunday at Dell Children’s Hospital.

Police responded to 400 East Cypress Creek on a call of a choking infant on Saturday. When officers began questioning Jacob Salas, 32, they found statements which were inconsistent with the child’s injuries. Police said they found bruising on her left ear.

According to police, Salas admitted to placing the child’s head between his knee and the floor. That’s when the child sustained a significant head injury.

Cedar Park police have charged Salas with injury to a child, and are working with the Williamson County District Attorney's office to determine if further charges will be filed.

LSS said Hamilton's aunt was called into work and was not in the home at the time of the incident.

The agency said they were also not aware Salas cared for the child until Saturday’s incident.

Hamilton was removed by the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) from her San Antonio family about seven months ago after her mother tested positive for methamphetamines.

DFPS says Hamilton was placed in a San Antonio foster home until December 20, 2012. She was then moved to her paternal aunt’s home in Cedar Park under the department’s kinship program which places foster children in the homes of relatives.

Both DFPS and LSS conducted a background check on Hamiton’s aunt. The child’s aunt was verified as a foster parent by LSS on Oct. 7.

Child Protective Services said they have removed three other children, ages three, five, and seven, living in the home at the time of the incident. Those children have been placed with another relative.

LSS said they will conduct their own comprehensive investigation into the incident. DFPS said they are investigating the agency’s actions in the case as well.

Salas remains in the Williamson County Jail with no bond.

See the Lutheran Social Services' statement below:

Lutheran Social Services of the South, Inc. (LSS) was informed yesterday evening that a child in one of our Austin area Fostering Connection programs was taken to the hospital with possible head trauma.  The Fostering Connection program is a Child Protective Services (CPS), state sponsored program that allows Kinship programs – programs that place children removed from their birth families by CPS into the homes of relatives or “kin” instead of in foster homes – to be verified as foster care parents.  The child unfortunately passed away early this morning and an unverified caregiver – meaning the caregiver was not the foster care parent on the approved and verified list of caregivers – was arrested.  The below is what we do know:
•    The LSS approved caregiver was called into work yesterday morning, usually a scheduled day off and was not in the home when the incident took place.
•    The caregiver in the home when the incident took place was not an approved LSS caregiver and had not been vetted by LSS and we were not aware of the caregiver prior to yesterday’s events
•    The approved caregiver was previously vetted and approved by CPS and had been with them for seven months.  The caregiver joined LSS’ program on Oct 4th, after we had completed our extensive background checks on the caregiver and anyone she listed as a potential care giver and found no warnings or red flags.
In addition to our already stringent, guidelines and background checks, LSS has implemented the following action plan to insure that our Kinship Program continues to follow all DFPS policies and adheres to the high standards of our organization:
1.    All kinship families statewide are being called by LSS staff to verify all household members and frequent visitors.
2.    All verifications are being verified for ages, gender, and ratios.
3.    The LSS Austin area foster care office is voluntarily suspending any foster care and kinship placements until further notice. 
4.    All new kinship home studies will be screened by our Statewide Kinship Director before verification.
5.    All kinship childcare plans are being verified statewide.
6.    Mandatory childcare will be required for all foster homes.   This will allow LSSS to verify the background of caretakers.
7.    All ex-spouses that have children in the home will also be required to submit to a criminal background check. 
LSS is not on a placement hold from this incident and in addition to conducting its own comprehensive investigation, will continue to work with the state throughout their investigation.
LSS will respect the states investigative process, as well as the privacy of the families involved and will have no additional statements, until the findings are complete.

Dr. Kurt Senske
Lutheran Social Services of the South, Inc