Despite criminal background, foster parent still qualified


by ANDY PIERROTTI / KVUE News and photojournalist DEREK RASOR

Posted on August 5, 2013 at 6:20 PM

Updated Monday, Aug 5 at 6:40 PM

AUSTIN -- Monday afternoon friends and family said goodbye to a two-year-old girl police say died by the hands of her foster mother.

Alex Hill's biological parents took her off life support last week after the girl’s foster mother, Sherill Small, admitted to fatally injuring her.

We’re learning more about Alex's foster father Clemon Small. He's not charged with her death, but he does have a criminal history that includes multiple marijuana drug charges and suspended driver licenses.

Despite his background, the Department of Family and Protective Services says minor drug charges 10 years or older do not disqualify potential foster parents.

Police say Mrs. Small said she wanted to foster more children to earn extra income. Texas Mentor, the adoption agency that placed Alex, said it pays its foster families up to $600 a month to take care of children.

Austin child welfare attorney Tracy Harting says foster parents are a mix of families who genuinely care and families who do use the system as an income.

"The state, at least historically, tried to weed those out by saying that foster parents had to have another source of income in the house, so they were not relying solely on fostering in order to make ends meet,” said Harting.

According to court records, a state investigator discovered Alex's biological mother, Mary Sweeny, suffered from seizures and a doctor determined, "she is not allowed to drive or be alone with Alexandria."

Her biological father, Joshua Hill, admitted one time to "smoking marijuana in the house when his daughter was upstairs sleeping."

The state also said he could not allow Alex to live with him at his parents because the "paternal grandfather is a registered sexual offender," for an offense that happened more than 20 years ago.