Three weeks before she was born, Sirita Sotelo was the subject of a Child Protective Services (CPS) referral, alleging prenatal substance abuse by her mother. After she tested positive for cocaine at birth on February 12, 2000, CPS filed for dependency and placed Sirita in foster care.
Over the next three years, the department made numerous attempts to reunite Sirita with her mother. Services were provided to address the mothers substance abuse and mental health issues. Four times Sirita was placed with her mother, only to again be removed due to allegations of abuse or neglect. During this period, Sirita experienced seven different placement episodes, alternating between foster care and placement with her mother.
She spent over 25 months in foster care, in eight different foster homes,2 and 19 months placed with her mother. Significant periods of placement with the mother lasted four months, five months and ten months. While efforts were being made to reunite Sirita with her mother, the childs father, who was notified of the dependency action, did not involve himself in the dependency process, or seek placement of Sirita.
In May 2003, the department filed for termination of parental rights, based on the length of time Sirita had been in state care, the failed reunification attempts with the mother, and the fathers lack of participation in the dependency action or reunification efforts.
However, after learning that the department was seeking to terminate parental rights, Siritas father stepped forward and requested that she be placed with him and his wife. The department then conducted a home study, and developed a service plan for the father, which included a drug/alcohol assessment, parenting classes, weekly visits with Sirita and a psychological evaluation. The father successfully completed these services, and in November 2003, Sirita was placed with her father, stepmother and their four children.
Over the following 12 months, the department continued to supervise Siritas placement with her father and provide case management services. Monthly visits to check on Siritas health and safety occurred in December 2003, January 2004, February 2004 and the last visit occurred in May 2004. Although caseworkers identified a need for counseling, this service was not implemented.
In November 2004, the dependency was dismissed, as the father had established a parenting plan gaining custody of Sirita. On January 22, 2005, only two months after the dependency case was closed, CPS received a referral from law enforcement reporting a suspicious death of four year-old Sirita. The stepmother and another relative had been with Sirita the night of her death and reportedly called poison control stating that Sirita had gotten sick eating glue. Later that evening, the relative checked on Sirita and found her dead, and then called 911.
According to law enforcement, the child appeared gaunt, malnourished and pale. Medical examiners later determined she died as a result of blows to the head and body causing a fractured skull and severed liver.
The stepmother later stated that she couldn’t handle Siritas fits and tantrums and admitted she threw her in a cold shower and beat her after the child wet her pants.