A woman in New Mexico is facing child abuse charges after an 11-month-old foster child in her respite foster home died on Dec. 31.
Stephanie Crownover, 55, is charged with one count of child abuse resulting in death and two counts of abuse of baby Ariza Barreras, reports KRQE.
Authorities say it was Crownover's "lack of care" and negligence that ultimately killed the infant, who was temporarily staying with the caretaker with her 2-year-old and 3-year-old siblings while their foster parents were out of town.
Crownover found the infant unresponsive and cold after she put the baby, who was reportedly sick with a respiratory illness, to sleep in a car seat by a space heater, reports the Albuquerque Journal.
The next morning, she called the police, who arrived to find the baby dead.
Authorities said they found the house in unusually poor condition, making it unfit to be a foster home. A strong odor allegedly permeated the residence, while officers found animal feces and dirty dishes throughout the house.
There was also no crib present for the infant to sleep in, reports KOAT.
The baby's siblings were also sick. As with Ariza, Crownover never took either to the doctor, even though the three unbathed children "had severe diarrhea, running noses, and coughs."
Investigators said Crownover showed little emotion when she was arrested. She insisted the baby's death wasn't her fault and she would not take care of any more in her home.
Only a few weeks earlier, a Children, Youth and Families Department worker visited the foster home and found nothing wrong, which has prompted an investigation into the matter.
"We know the conditions that were reported to me, that were observed at that time, are nothing like what we’ve been informed law enforcement encountered," CYFD Secretary Monique Jacobson said. "That’s why we want to do this very thorough investigation into what exactly went on in that home, if the conditions changed, why did they change and at what point."
Jacobson says the results of the investigation will determine whether the state will revoke Crownover's foster parent license.
Her license is now on hold and no other children will be placed in her care during the investigation.
"An 11-month-old baby died and it’s not OK," Jacobson said. "We owe that baby a thorough investigation into what went on in this case and what could have been done differently and what we need to do differently moving forward."