A foster care agency that lost its license after the death of a 6-year-old girl last year can continue to operate after it agreed to a settlement last week with state regulators.
Minneapolis-based Family Alternatives supervised a Brooklyn Park foster home where Kendrea Johnson was found last December hanging from a jump rope tied to her bunk bed.
The Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) revoked Family Alternatives' license in May, saying Kendrea's case and others, including the sexual assaults of children in other foster homes under its management, "demonstrated an inability or unwillingness to comply with licensing standards."
In the settlement, Family Alternatives was able to address those concerns, said DHS inspector general Jerry Kerber. Among the agreements made by Family Alternatives are increased oversight by the state, better training for its employees, and payment of a $600 fine.
"We know that they have provided a lot of quality services for other kids," Kerber said. "We think the terms of this settlement mean children will be getting more higher-quality care."
Family Alternatives oversees about 61 foster homes, most of which are in the metro area.
In a statement, Family Alternatives executive director Joan Riebel said, "Family Alternatives has always been and will continue to be an advocate for improving foster care in [Minnesota]. Over the past 37 years our experienced and dedicated foster families and staff have served thousands of foster children and families. We look forward to serving many more in the years to come."
As part of its revocation order in May, DHS found that Family Alternatives repeatedly failed to investigate complaints about Kendrea's foster mother, Tannise Nawaqavou, including several reports when the girl lived with her. Those reports included an incident in which the girl was locked in her room, and another in which she was found with her pants down with another foster child.
DHS revoked Nawaqavou's license in March. She has appealed, but cannot operate.
In January, the Star Tribune reported how child protection workers and care providers failed to work together for more than a year to safeguard Kendrea, despite knowing she was severely mentally ill, thought about suicide every day and lived in a chaotic foster home.
Although the Hennepin County medical examiner couldn't determine the manner of Kendrea's death, investigators strongly considered the possibility of suicide.
Kerber said the DHS investigation found that Kendrea's death was likely an accident, and could not link it directly to failed oversight by Family Alternatives. Still, the DHS reports concluded that Kendrea's care providers were not communicating with one another about the girl's needs.
At another foster home, Family Alternatives failed to investigate after two foster children used electronic devices to make contact with gang members, met with them and were sexually assaulted, DHS said.
A Coon Rapids foster home overseen by Family Alternatives had its license revoked in February after finding that a girl in the home was raped. The provider, Patricia Woodard, has appealed the revocation and may still operate.
In the settlement, Family Alternatives disputed there were "repeat licensing violations."
During its investigation, Kerber said DHS found that a majority of the 13-member Family Alternatives board of directors consisted of its own foster care providers. The agency agreed to remove those board members as part of the settlement.
"We believe that you should not be governed by the people you regulate," Kerber said.