Mishap changes foster care rules
By CURTIS KRUEGER, Times Staff Writer
CLEARWATER -- The near-drowning of a toddler in a foster home earlier this month has prompted a child welfare agency to require similar homes to install safety fences around swimming pools.
Two-year-old Angela Sozzani, deaf and suffering from a heart condition, apparently wandered out the back door of her Clearwater foster home on April 17 and wound up in the swimming pool.
She remains unconscious in All-Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg, where she was listed in critical condition Friday night. Clearwater police said in a report that the incident appeared to be accidental.
Angela's birth mother, Laura Munn, said Friday she was upset that her daughter was hurt after she had been taken away from her by the state as a protective measure. Child welfare officials said they also were saddened by the incident.
"We see so many tragic things happen to a child," said Patsy Buker, executive director of Help A Child, the agency which supervises medical foster care homes. "You never think it could happen in any of your programs."
Ronald and Joyce Bryson, longtime foster care parents, did not have a child safety fence immediately surrounding the pool and were not required to have one. Their home had other safety features necessary to pass a required home study, said Shawnna Lee, spokeswoman for the state Department of Children and Families.
Two locking doors, a sliding glass door and a screen door separate anyone in the house from the pool, said Clearwater Detective James T. Kleinsorge, who investigated the case. A fence surrounds the yard.
State rules require a 4-foot barrier around swimming pools in foster homes, such as the fence at this home, Lee said. They also require locks for doors or fences leading to the pool.
But Buker said the 19 Pinellas medical foster homes now must install child safety fences around swimming pools.
Family Continuity Program, which supervises foster care at 294 homes in Pinellas and Pasco counties, including 79 that have swimming pools, also will review whether to require child safety fences, said spokeswoman Elaine Fulton-Jones.
A state law that took effect last year requires all new swimming pools to have either a 4-foot barrier on all sides of the pool; a pool cover; an alarm system; or self-locking and self-closing devices at all pool entrances.
The Brysons, the foster parents where Angela fell into the pool, have cared for 77 children in 15 years in Florida and Illinois and have an excellent reputation, Buker said.
The Brysons' home is a medical foster home, which means they have received training to care for children such as Angela, who suffer from medical problems. Such foster parents receive annual training in CPR for infants and children. Police said the Brysons performed CPR on Angela. Buker said the couple also had a voluntary home safety inspection.
On April 17, the Brysons' home was full of people. A nurse had just visited. A newly licensed foster parent stopped by. Three foster children and two of the Brysons' grandchildren also were there.
As Mrs. Bryson stood at the stove preparing supper, she could hear Angela playing with a toy in an adjoining room. After a minute, she realized Angela wasn't in that room anymore, a police report says.
Soon after Mrs. Bryson asked about Angela, one of the grandchildren found her in the pool.
Mrs. Bryson told police that Angela had not been out of her sight for more than two minutes. She speculated that the other children in the house must have left the sliding glass door open after coming inside. She said Angela recently had learned to walk and could not have opened the door.
Laura Munn, Angela's birth mother, said Friday she was "shocked and scared" by the incident. The 23-year-old St. Petersburg resident is deaf and wrote out her comments for a reporter. She said she still hopes to have Angela come back to live with her, along with another 4-year-old daughter in state care.
"She cries every night," said Tony Munn, 25, Laura Munn's brother who lives in Plantation. "She cries in the hospital with Angela."
© 2006 • All Rights Reserved • Tampa Bay Times
490 First Avenue South St. Petersburg, FL 33701 727-893-8111
From the Times
local news desks