A state caregiver has been charged with child abuse after authorities said an 11-month-old foster child died from “a lack of care” in the caregiver’s Belen home. Deputies said the home was filthy, with animal feces, unwashed dishes and a strong stench throughout.
The caregiver, Stephanie Crownover, 55, is a licensed foster parent who was taking care of the young girl, Ariza Barreras, and her two slightly older siblings over the weekend while their foster mother attended an out-of-state family gathering, according to a criminal complaint filed in the Valencia County Magistrate Court. The other two children, ages 2 and 3 years old, are still in custody of the Children, Youth and Families Department.
CYFD Secretary Monique Jacobson said the department is conducting a thorough investigation into Ariza’s death and the condition of Crownover’s home.
She said a CYFD worker visited the home during the first week of December and found nothing amiss.
“We know the conditions that were reported to me, that were observed at that time, are nothing like what we’ve been informed law enforcement encountered,” Jacobson said. “That’s why we want to do this very thorough investigation into what exactly went on in that home, if the conditions changed, why did they change and at what point.”
According to the criminal complaint, shortly before 7 a.m. on Sunday, Crownover called Valencia County Sheriff’s deputies to her home on Gabaldon near U.S. 314 because Ariza was not breathing.
When deputies arrived they found the little girl was dead.
Crownover told deputies she had been taking care of Ariza and her siblings for the past three days and all three “had severe diarrhea, running noses, and coughs.” But, she said, she did not take them to a hospital or doctor.
Crownover said she had put the children to bed around 9 p.m. the night before and Ariza was sleeping buckled into a car seat in her room. When she awoke, she said, she found the girl was cold to the touch.
“Stephanie stated as she went up to the car seat she noticed that Ariza’s head was slumped forward and her left arm was caught in the shoulder strap,” the deputy wrote in the complaint.
She said she began to try to revive her and called 911. She also called her pastor and others from her church.
When deputies entered the home they said it had animal feces and urine in several rooms, dirty floors, rotten food in the refrigerator and unwashed dishes throughout the house, according to the complaint. They said the smell was “almost unbearable.” They said Ariza’s siblings were unbathed, with dirty diapers.
The complaint said that later that day when deputies told Ariza’s biological parents about her death they both “got extremely upset and began crying.”
Ariza’s father told deputies the parents had seen the children for a weekly visit just two days earlier and noticed the children had not been bathed and were not wearing shoes or socks. He said Ariza had a soiled diaper and a severe diaper rash, and when he told a facilitator about his concerns he was told the issue would be reported.
The complaint said the children were taken out of the parents’ care due to “drug use, homelessness and allegations of sexual abuse.”
Jacobson said she has been told that CYFD did not receive a report about Ariza’s father’s concerns, but agency officials will be looking into that further to determine what happened.
The complaint said rescuers saw a ligature mark on Ariza’s neck and a mark on her left shoulder when they found her in the car seat with her arm caught in a strap.
An autopsy report found Ariza had no signs of trauma or natural diseases. The pathologist said he did not see any acute signs of dehydration but he would know more after further lab tests are completed. He did say it’s possible Ariza had pneumonia, aggravated by the low temperature in the home.
“It is believed due to the lack of care provided by Stephanie and her negligence in caring for Ariza and her siblings, her actions caused the death of Ariza,” a deputy wrote in the complaint.
Crownover is charged with two counts of child abuse and one count of child abuse resulting in death. She is being held at the Valencia County Detention Center on a no-bond hold as of Tuesday evening. Her attorney could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Jacobson could not say how long Crownover had been a licensed foster parent, but stressed that her license is on hold and no children will be placed in her care during the investigation. The results of the investigation will determine whether her license will be revoked.
“An 11-month-old baby died and it’s not OK,” Jacobson said. “We owe that baby a thorough investigation into what went on in this case and what could have been done differently and what we need to do differently moving forward.”