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Times coverage: Toddler allegedly beaten with hammer [Updated]

Times reporters Garrett Therolf and Anna Gorman have more on the March 4 death of Viola Vanclief, a 2-year-old black girl who was killed in the 100 block of E. Gage Ave. in Florence.

[Updated March 18: More details have emerged about the foster mother in this case, who The Times has learned was the subject of previous abuse inquiries. Therolf has the story: Foster mother had 5 abuse complaints]

A foster mother and her boyfriend are under investigation in the death of a 2-year-old child in their care who was beaten with a hammer, according to authorities and coroner's records.

Viola Vanclief's death March 4 is the latest in a series of troubles linked to United Care Inc., a nonprofit foster-care agency that contracts with Los Angeles County to provide shelter for abused and neglected children.

Records show that United Care, which oversees 88 homes with 216 foster children, has been cited repeatedly in recent years after caregivers choked, hit and whipped their charges with a belt. In 2007, a foster child drowned while swimming unsupervised in a pool.

South Los Angeles residents Kiana Barker, 30, and her boyfriend, James Julian, 38,  were arrested last week on suspicion of murder in connection with Viola's death, according to Los Angeles police records. They were released two days later, with no charges filed. Police are continuing to investigate the couple.

Barker was de-certified as a foster parent last week, and state regulators posted a notice near one of the no-trespassing signs outside her house saying that a child-care-center license there had been suspended.

Barker told investigators that Viola was trapped in a bed frame when she accidentally struck the child with a hammer while trying to free her, according to coroner's records. Viola had multiple bruises on her body, the records say. The death was deemed a homicide.

It is unclear how the child came to be in the couple's care. Julian had been convicted in 1998 of felony robbery using a firearm -- a fact that should have barred him from living in a home with foster children, according to state records.

Trish Ploehn, director of the Department of Children and Family Services, declined to comment on details of the case but said: "This child's death is extremely saddening for everyone."

Keep reading: South L.A. foster mother, boyfriend are under investigation in child's death

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