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The foster mother is sued over a baby's death.
By COLLEEN JENKINS, Times Staff Writer
Published January 27, 2008
TAMPA - Dasani Robinson had cocaine in her tiny body the moment she breathed life.
Child welfare workers reluctantly allowed the newborn to go home with a mother who promised to get clean. Trina Robinson readied a nursery.
Holding Dasani "made me joyful," Robinson said. "It made me love again."
The joy didn't last.
Seven weeks later, Dasani was dead.
But the baby didn't die in the care of the woman who had drawn concern. She died in the bed of a woman the state entrusted to keep her safe.
* * *
Two mothers failed Dasani.
Robinson, her birth mother, smoked a cocaine-laced cigarette while seven months pregnant, she said. She didn't know, she said, about the baby growing inside her.
Kimberly Ann Price, who took charge of Dasani after Robinson tested positive for drugs, ignored a state rule about infants sleeping with adults, public records show. Dasani suffocated in Price's bed.
The medical examiner ruled the June 2006 death an "unfortunate accident." The foster mother lost her license to take in other children.
St. Petersburg attorney Darryl Rouson wants a higher price paid.
"A dead black child's life is worth something," he said. "And it's worth at least accountability."
He has filed a lawsuit on behalf of Dasani's estate, accusing the foster mother and foster care providers Hillsborough Kids Inc. and the Children's Home of negligence.
Price could not be reached for comment at home or work.
She first wound up with Dasani because Robinson tested positive for cocaine and marijuana the day she checked out of the hospital and took her baby home, according to child welfare documents provided by her attorney.
By then, Robinson had already done jail time for drug possession and distribution, disorderly conduct and larceny. Child protection workers had accused her of inadequate supervision, costing her custody of four other children. Estranged from her husband, she said another man had fathered her youngest child.
She had hoped to turn things around for Dasani.
The caseworker who visited Robinson's public housing apartment in Tampa found the chubby-cheeked baby looking content and well cared for.
"I had a choice," Robinson, 29, said during a recent interview. "Drugs or my kids. And I'd rather have my kids.
"I was focused."
Too late, it turned out. The results from the dirty drug test came back, prompting the caseworker to return to take the 13-day-old infant away.
Robinson cried as she packed formula and clothes for her baby.
* * *
Price served as Dasani's de facto mom.
A teacher at the Lopez Exceptional Student Education Center in Seffner, she became a licensed foster parent in March 2005.
Most foster homes are allowed to have up to five children, including biological offspring.
Price, 36, received a waiver to care for seven foster children, plus her three biological children, said Andy Ritter, a spokesman for the Florida Department of Children and Families in Tampa.
The night Dasani died, Price had 12 minors at her Thonotosassa home. They included her three children - ages 17, 16 and 14 - and six other foster children, ages 15, 7, 3, 3, 2 and 1. A niece and nephew, ages 11 and 14, also were staying over.
Reports from the DCF and the Hillsborough Sheriff's Office detail what happened.
About 11:30 p.m. on June 21, Price fed Dasani 4 ounces of formula with a teaspoon of barley cereal.
Instead of putting Dasani in her portable crib, Price propped her up on a pillow in the foster mother's bed.
Later, Price said she occasionally opted for that sleeping arrangement when the baby had a stomachache, sheriff's records show. That way, Price could pat Dasani's bottom or rub her stomach to get her to sleep.
But state rules bar a foster parent from co-sleeping with a foster child. Here's why: In a six-county region that includes Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco, 15 children died last year from co-sleeping.
"For any infant in foster care, they must be in a crib," said Stacy Moore, director of licensed care for Hillsborough Kids. "They have to have their own bed."
Of particular concern to officials was the fact that another child also had slept in Price's bed.
The St. Petersburg Times obtained the comprehensive death review conducted by the DCF, which investigates all deaths of children in foster care.
In it, Price told the state agency's investigators she was unaware that the 2-year-old foster boy had crawled into her bed during the night.
But in an earlier interview with Hillsborough sheriff's deputies, Price said that, rather than have the boy cry about the older kids staying up to watch movies, she had let him into the bed with her and Dasani. She said she covered all three of them with a sheet. She said a pillow divided him from the baby.
At some point during the night, it seems the 45-pound boy shifted his weight in a way that left his pillow blocking Dasani's face, according to the reports.
Price woke up about 4 a.m. to feed Dasani. The baby's skin was cold, and she wasn't breathing.
Price performed CPR until rescue workers pushed her out of the way. A sheriff's detective noted that the foster mother was "extremely emotionally distraught."
* * *
This case feels personal to Rouson.
The attorney and candidate for the state Legislature is a former cocaine addict, who picked up his habit again after his second wife died in 1997 of cancer.
His family threatened to take his 3-year-old son if he didn't clean up. Rouson says he went to rehab for the sake of his child.
He wonders if Dasani, too, could have saved her mother.
"We don't know what Dasani would have been," he said.
He expects some people will scoff at a financial reward for Robinson. Rouson says the grieving mother has agreed that a portion of any jury award or settlement Dasani's estate receives would be used to help other children who land in foster care because of a parent's drug use.
"To me, the important thing here is a baby's dead," Rouson said. "And the death was caused by someone's failure to follow the rules."
Hillsborough Kids Inc. officials said they could not discuss specifics of the case because of the pending lawsuit.
The state removed all the foster children from Price's home after Dasani's death, and she gave up her foster parent license in January 2007.
Renu Parker, vice president of communications for Hillsborough Kids Inc., called the situation "very, very sad and tragic."
"All of us here at HKI," she said, "were absolutely heartbroken to hear of Dasani's death."
Colleen Jenkins can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 813 226-3337.
[Last modified January 26, 2008, 23:26:28]