A woman who had been stripped of custody of her daughter allegedly killed the toddler after the two were reunited by a court order, authorities said Friday.
Marisela Barajas had been placed in a foster home along with four siblings because there was evidence that some of the siblings had been physically abused, said Victoria Pipkin, a spokeswoman for Los Angeles County Children's Services.
But last spring, Marisela was returned to the care of her mother, Maria Sabina Barajas, for what was supposed to be a two-month period, Pipkin said.
The court order was made by an unidentified judicial officer, based on the recommendation of a child welfare social worker who cited "a glowing report" from the woman's family counselor.
On June 4, Marisela, 19 months old, was pronounced dead at Valley Presbyterian Hospital in Van Nuys. Los Angeles child abuse detectives say she suffered multiple injuries, some of which were consistent with shaken-baby syndrome.
A fifth sibling, who had not been removed from the Panorama City home, was taken into protective custody by police and is now in the care of Children's Services, police said.
Barajas, 30, was arrested and remains in custody without bail, charged with murder and child endangerment causing death, police and prosecutors said. The baby's father, Antonio Barajas, has not been charged, police said.
A preliminary hearing for Maria Barajas is set for Oct. 22.
County public defender Irene Nunez, Barajas' attorney in the murder case, declined to comment.
The death follows other, high-profile cases in which children who were returned to homes where there had been prior findings of abuse or neglect were later killed.
One, the fatal beating death of 2 1/2-year-old Lance Helms in North Hollywood, prompted California legislators to pass more laws intended to protect children. One of the new provisions allows judges more latitude in terminating parental rights.
In the Barajas case, Pipkin said a Children's Services caseworker had recommended that Maria Barajas be allowed unmonitored visits with Marisela. She made that recommendation after receiving a report from a family counselor, who said the child's parents had completed counseling successfully and could provide a safe home.
"It appears the social worker of this case did a very good job, and the [social worker's] court report was comprehensive to the extent that there is a notation that the court said it was a good report," Pipkin said.
"When professionals write a glowing report saying the mother can provide a safe environment, what are we supposed to do?"