The Brief Life and Private Death of Alexandria Hill.

When the government took her from her family, it outsourced her safety to a for-profit corporation. Nine months later she was dead.

A 2-year-old was killed while in foster care, and her foster mother will now serve a life sentence for the crime

Alex Hill was placed in foster care after her father admitted to using marijuana.

Joshua Hill told Texas child welfare investigators that he smoked after the child was in bed at night.  A case worker determined that the father’s marijuana use and the mother’s medical condition (frequent seizures) warranted removal from the home.

Alexandria Hill was removed from her biological parents care due to her father, Joshua Hill’s marijuana use and her mother, Mary Sweeney’s, medical condition which caused seizures. A medical condition that no doctor had ever restricted her capability of caring for Alex by herself. 

The toddler had appeared healthy and happy with her parents, but she was placed into the foster care system in early 2013.

On Tuesday Alex’s foster mother, Sherill Small, was sentenced to life in prison for the July 2013 death of the little girl, who would have turned four on Friday.

Alex’s parents, Joshua Hill and Mary Sweeny, had reported bruises on their child during visitations, but were never told about Small’s numerous violations.

Four months before Hill was set to regain custody he received a call that Alex was in the hospital.  Small admitted to police that she had slammed the child onto the floor, saying it was an accident.

Alex’s autopsy revealed several bruises all around her body, and a medical examiner stated her head hit the floor so violently that she had “subdural hemorrhaging, subarachnoid hemorrhaging, and retinal hemorrhaging in both eyes,” according to court testimony.

From the time Alex was removed from her parents, Mary’s family had been trying to get at least temporary custody of Alex. The week before she was killed, we finally got a call back from Texas child protective services to start a home study for the possibility of getting Alex out of foster care.

The Small’s qualified to parent Alex.

The Small’s had several previous drug convictions.

The Small’s did not have a job.

The Small’s killed Alexandria Hill

Nationally, no one tracks how many children are in private foster homes, or how these homes perform compared to those vetted directly by the government. As part of an 18-month investigation, Mother Jones asked every state whether it at least knew how many children in its foster system had been placed in privately screened homes. Very few could tell me. For the eight states that did, the total came to at least 72,000 children in 2011. Not one of the states had a statistically valid data set comparing costs, or rates of abuse or neglect, in privately versus publicly vetted homes.

The bottom line for private foster care agencies—whether large, for-profit corporations or small, local nonprofits—is tied to the number of foster parents on their roster, and thus their ability to place children quickly. Given that every foster parent represents potential revenue.

An agency may be more likely to overlook sketchy personal histories or potential safety hazards. There’s little incentive, he adds, to seek out reasons to reject a family, to investigate problems after children are placed, or to do anything else that could result in a child leaving the agency’s program. And as tough as the margins are for nonprofit agencies, the perverse incentives are exacerbated at for-profit agencies that need to make money for owners or shareholders.