Foster child found dead in Belen home, woman charged | KOB 4

Foster child found dead in Belen home, woman charged

J.R. Oppenheim and Caleb James
January 03, 2018 07:07 AM

BELEN, N.M. -- Police in Belen arrested a 55-year-old woman for the death of an 11-month-old foster child, according to a criminal complaint.


Stephanie Crownover of Belen faces three counts of child abuse, including one resulting in death after police received a call on Sunday morning regarding an unresponsive infant child.

Police arrived at the residence on Gabaldon Road and saw emergency medical personnel working on the child, which had marks associated with strangulation around the neck, the criminal complaint states.

Crownover, a respite caregiver for foster children, reportedly told police she left the infant in a car carrier next to her bed to sleep. According to the police report, she said she found the child unresponsive around 6 a.m.

In addition to the marks on the neck, the child also had clothing riding up her neck.

KOB has also learned that the Children Youth and Families Department has opened its own investigation parallel to the criminal probe.

The child and two siblings were initially taken out of her parents care because of drug use, homelessness and allegations of sexual abuse, the police report says. Another foster parent who cared for the children went out of town, so the criminal complaint says Crownover had the children.

The two other children, ages 2 and 3, looked dirty and unbathed, the police report says. They were also in the home when police arrived.

Police also reportedly found poor conditions in the home, including dog feces and urine along with foul odors. Other unkempt conditions included human feces in a dirty and discolored toilet, empty bags and bottles in one room, scattered food bowls, and pills under a bed, according to the report. 

"Stephanie appeared to be emotionless about this situation and even stated that she would not take care of any more babies in her home," the police report states. "Stephanie then stated that she was unsure if CYFD would even let her take care of kids anymore, but that this was not her fault."

An autopsy determined the child likely died as a result of neglect, the police report said. The body showed no signs of trauma or natural diseases. However, the child could have had pneumonia potentially aggravated due to cold conditions in the home.

The biological parents cried when they heard the news, but they also reportedly told police the children looked unbathed and did not have shoes or socks during a weekly visit. The father also said the infant had a soiled diaper and diaper rash. 

CYFD Secretary Monique Jacobsen said the department has launched an investigation, and there are big questions to answer now.

Jacobsen said a home visit to Crownover's residence less than a month ago didn't raise any red flags. But when deputies discovered the dead child Sunday, they even recorded the structural issues.

"If we were in this house and this is not what we saw, what caused it to change?" Jacobson said. "When did it change? How did it change? what would it have taken for us to know there was a change?"

But the state of that house is only one serious question. Crownover is a fully licensed foster care provider, according to the department, but on Sunday she was watching the children for their full-time foster mother who was out of town. That is called respite care.

KOB asked Jacobsen to clarify whether there was a hard and fast written policy dictating respite care must be arranged through official CYFD channels. She said it was a "best practice" and indicated it was part of policies and procedures.

Jacobson said it is required for many different reasons, including department record-keeping because respite providers are compensated for their work.

"It is certainly what we need to have happened around the state," she said. We know there are counties where it's not always happening."

Though respite providers hold the same exact license as full-time foster parents, Jacobsen admits temporary care isn't always arranged the way it's supposed to be -- directly through CYFD.

"We should have a record of those requests being made," she said. "Again, all of this is part of the investigation we have doing on right now."


J.R. Oppenheim and Caleb James

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