Conecuh County child welfare workers may have been overzealous in removing children
from their families and sometimes placed more than the allowable number of children in foster homes
, officials said Friday, a week after foster parents were accused of trying to kill a boy.
In just a few days, officials said, investigators have discovered that some of the county's 13 homes
approved for foster care have hosted more than six children at a time — the limit under DHR rules. Some parents used corporal punishment, discipline contrary to agreements they signed, according to investigators with knowledge of the state probe.
A Press-Register comparison of surrounding counties, meanwhile, shows that Conecuh County, with some 13,000 residents, has 30 children in foster care, while neighboring counties with more than double their population have fewer — one has only three.
According to DHR pay schedules, foster parents receive $432.50
per month for a child up to 2 years old. For a child 3 to 5, the payment jumps to $445.50
per month. Foster parents get $456.50 for 6- to 12-year-olds, and $468.50
for 13- to 18-year-olds.
The rules are not always hard and fast. Spear said the limit of six children in a home can be raised if there are siblings who are placed together
. He said there were four children in the Sims home when the boy, who was there with his two siblings, was injured.
All foster children have been removed from the Sims home and the Simses remained in jail Friday in lieu of $1.5 million bail each.
Police responded to the Simses' home May 11 to find the boy barely breathing with a faint pulse. He arrived at a Pensacola hospital later in cardiac arrest
and suffering from a severe head injury
that doctors said could not have been a simple accident
, Chapman has said. He also was severely dehydrated and likely had not eaten in days
, officials said.
On Friday, investigators said the boy was breathing on his own at Sacred Heart Hospital in Pensacola. He can open his eyes, but is not responsive to sound, touch or other stimuli. He has a feeding tube.
Authorities said the boy's parents were unable to care for their children because of drug abuse. Their father died of a drug overdose weeks after the children were taken. Their mother has been in drug rehab.
Relatives of the injured boy maintain he would still be healthy and safe if he and his siblings had been left in their great-grandparents' home. Leslie Prince of North Carolina identified herself in a telephone interview as the boy's grandmother.
Prince said there were domestic problems between the children's parents, but "they were safe in my ex-husband's mother's home. I put in for the children in February, but they said it would take three months to finalize."
Prince said she never received a response to her request from DHR.
Spear confirmed that out-of-state relatives had been seeking to get the three siblings, with documents in process since April. In-state relatives applied in May, days after the boy was injured.