Coroner: Dead foster child was abused

11:41 PM, Jun. 1, 2011

A Hamilton County foster child had a bruised face and newly broken arm when she died in February, but Hamilton County Coroner Dr. Anant Bhati said his office can’t say for sure how the little girl died.
As a result – after three months of investigation by his office – a county pathologist ruled 7-month-old Ty’ionna Barfield’s cause and manner of death “undetermined.”

Both the bones in Ty’ionna’s right arm were broken, according to Bhati.
“These injuries don’t explain the death of a 7-month-old baby,” Bhati said. But he added, “there is obvious abuse of the baby. You can explain bruises or abrasions (cuts) with a fall, but to have fractured both arm bones?”

Barfield had a history of sleep apnea, but that was discounted as a cause of death, Bhati said.

It’s the first time a child has died in Hamilton County foster care since 2003 when 1-year-old Mikinah Smith died in 2003, violently beaten by her foster father who was later convicted of involuntary manslaughter.

The most famous local foster care death was that of 3-year-old Marcus Fiesel in 2006. Fiesel was in the care of Butler County Job and Family Services when he was placed with a Clermont County foster family, who locked him in a hot a closet where he died.

Bhati alerted Hamilton County Job and Family Services to his findings Wednesday.

“We have reviewed that report and we are deeply troubled by the injuries to this child,” JFS spokesman Brian Gregg said. “Losing a child in our care is always upsetting, but learning of the injuries this child sustained is heartbreaking.”

He said his agency wants to find out “exactly what happened to Ty’ionna” and is cooperating with police.

Gregg said Ty’ionna was closely monitored. She was seen six times by four caregivers between Feb. 4 when she was placed in foster care and Feb. 18 when she died. Among those: Ty’ionna was seen by a JFS worker two days before her death. And a pediatric nurse did a complete exam of the infant four days before she died, Gregg said.

Neither reported seeing any injuries, he said.

Bhati’s office will be following up with North College Hill police who are investigating the death because that’s where Ty’ionna lived with her foster mother, Lisa Wilson.

Wilson did not return a call for comment. The detective handling the case could not be reached for comment. Court records show Wilson has not been charged with a crime. But an investigation is on-going, Gregg said.

Job and Family Services took emergency custody of Ty’ionna Feb. 4 and she was placed with Wilson, said Gregg and Lighthouse Youth Services officials.

Wilson was in the process of adopting a 15-month-old child and had taken in Ty’ionna and two of her siblings ages, 2 and 4, according to Lighthouse Youth Services, which licensed Wilson.

Lighthouse President and CEO Bob Mecum said Wilson had been taking in children since February 2007 and never had problems.

“This was a foster mom who by all accounts was a good and trusted and competent foster mom,” Mecum said. “She had a good reputation and did good things for kids in her care.”

Wilson’s adoption has been stopped and Ty’ionna’s siblings have been placed in other homes, Mecum said.

Until the case is resolved, new children – with the exception of just a few where no other home could be found – aren’t being placed with any Lighthouse families, Gregg said.

Lighthouse has been operating since 1969 and Mecum said no other children have ever died in the care of its foster families.

JFS did a review of all Lighthouse-licensed families and no other problems were found, Gregg said. Mecum said the state also investigated and found policies and procedures to ensure children’s safety were followed. That report was not available Wednesday night.

“Our agency staff is heartbroken that a baby died,” Mecum said. “Our concern has been always the safety of the young children entrusted in our care.”

He said the agency has been cooperating with police, as has Wilson.

Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center reported the death to Bhati’s office, suggesting she was taken to the hospital, according to coroner’s office records.

The injuries had to have happened sometime between Feb. 16 when the pediatric nurse examined Ty’ionna and her Feb. 18 death, Mecum said.