Mother target of past abuse probes
Long before Ingrid Brewer was charged with torturing her children, one of them told a social worker that she was scared.
After visiting Brewer’s Palmdale home while assessing her application to adopt the children, the social worker reported that the girl, now 7, and her half brother, 8, appeared stiff in Brewer’s presence and had to ask permission to do anything.
Despite that report, the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services looked no further and contact with the family was soon terminated.
Even before the adoption was finalized, the county’s own files contained at least nine investigations of alleged abuse involving Brewer going back a dozen years, according to a person familiar with the investigation who provided a detailed account to The Times.
Philip Browning, who has led the department as its permanent director for less than a year, said he could not explain why Brewer, a nursing assistant, was allowed to adopt the children -- but he was deeply disappointed that the system appeared to have failed. Multiple workers involved in the case, he said, have been placed on desk duty pending possible disciplinary action.
“This is a very serious situation,” Browning said. “There is a thorough investigation that is going to be conducted to determine what happened, why it happened and how it happened.”
Brewer was arrested last month after the boy and girl were found bruised and beaten on a Palmdale street without winter clothes, huddled under a blanket in 20-degree weather.
They had run away because they were “tired of being tied up and beaten,” said Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Sgt. Brian Hudson of the Special Victims Bureau.
The children told deputies that Brewer had locked them in bedrooms when she went to work, bound their hands with zip ties and beat them with electrical cords and a hammer, Hudson said.
They had been deprived of food and forced to use wastebaskets as toilets. Both had injuries consistent with the alleged abuse, Hudson said.
When detectives interviewed Brewer, she told them the children were punished for stealing food. The case “even shocked some of our most veteran children’s case workers,” Hudson said.
Brewer pleaded not guilty to eight felony counts, including torture, cruelty and assault with a deadly weapon at her arraignment Jan. 18. Her attorney, alternate public defender Hung Phi Du, declined to comment.
After Brewer’s arrest, county investigators uncovered a history of child maltreatment investigations involving Brewer going back to 2001, when callers to a hotline twice reported that she was abusing her two biological children. Both times, social workers concluded that the allegations were unfounded.
In 2006, Brewer was recruited by a private agency called Aspiranet. Based in South San Francisco, the contractor is one of the state’s largest foster care providers, serving 2,000 children a year.
Aspiranet placed 23 children in Brewer’s care over the next five years, among them the half siblings she ended up adopting.
The children’s mother had been found to be suffering from schizophrenia and depression. They came to Brewer in 2009; it was their fourth foster home.
During Brewer’s five years as a foster parent, the county child-abuse hotline received at least seven calls from people alleging that she was maltreating children, including the half siblings.
The allegations, involving eight children, included emotional abuse, belt whippings and pinches that left marks on a child’s neck, according to the source.
Each time, social workers determined that the allegations were inconclusive or unfounded, though their reports said some of the children had visible injuries.
The county and Aspiranet began proceedings to allow Brewer to adopt the half siblings when a court terminated their biological parents’ rights.
Aspiranet conducted a home study to confirm her suitability.
The county affirmed Aspiranet’s positive appraisal and successfully petitioned the court for approval.
Aspiranet’s chief executive, Vernon Brown, noted in a prepared statement that schools, therapists, physicians and other professionals also had contact with the family over the time that Brewer was one of his agency’s certified foster mothers. “The support provided met all standards of practice,” he said.
During the weeks leading up to adoption, Brewer expressed ambivalence about becoming the children’s parent, according to records reviewed by the source.
Children’s services held three meetings with her to discuss her inability to bond with them and handle their behavior problems.
Child welfare workers often strive to make foster parents into adoptive parents to give children a more stable home.
The alternative, moving them along to the next foster home, is hard on children and often might not be feasible because of the perennial shortage of foster families.
During the visit to Brewer’s home in January 2011, the social worker noted that Brewer did not refer to the half siblings as her children. The boy had no toys in the house, and occupied himself by picking lint off the carpet, according to reports described by the source.
But no investigation was begun and social workers soon ended their visits. Brewer continued to receive monthly financial support for the children’s care.
Browning, an adoptive parent, said he believes the process is thorough.
“Standards are in place,” he said. “There are always going to be individual workers, [foster family contractors] and parents who get out of the standards.”
A neighbor in the Los Angeles apartment building where Brewer lived until she moved to Palmdale early last year said the half siblings appeared fearful and inhibited.
They never laughed or smiled, said LaVonne Griffis, 60, who lived in the unit above Brewer in the three-story apartment building.
Griffis said she called the county hotline and reported that she had seen Brewer slap the boy and tell him to shut up after he complained that he was cold.
The neighbor didn’t know if her complaint prompted an investigation, she said. She only knew that the children remained in Brewer’s care.
After Brewer’s arrest, the children were sent to a new foster home.
“If we have done something wrong, we’ll have to be responsible for that,” Browning said.