Amarah Lane case: Unanswered questions

Social services workers explain their procedures

By Tommy Lopez - Weekend Anchor / Reporter

LYNCHBURG, Va. - After a Lynchburg mother was indicted on a murder charge earlier this month in the death of her daughter, the Lynchburg Department of Human Services is explaining its policies and procedures to 10 News.

Fantasia Lane is accused of killing her 22-month-old daughter Amarah, who died after doctors told her father that her brain activity had stopped. The trial for Lane, who is now 21 years old, is scheduled for March of next year.

Documents and photos given to 10 News show Amarah’s prior injuries while in Lane’s care, and comments from an ex-boyfriend give a glimpse into what the toddler’s last few months alive were like.

The documents also describe the process Lane went through to regain custody of her daughter after the child went into foster care at just 3 weeks old.

Amarah’s father and his family members tried to get custody throughout her life. They’re still searching for answers as to how the toddler ended up back with her mother and are considering taking legal action.

Lynchburg Department of Human Services
10 News had a conversation with Tamara Rosser, the director of the Lynchburg Department of Human Services, about the department’s policies and procedures.

The department doesn’t comment on the specifics of any case, but she said a review from the regional office in Roanoke shows the department went by the book in the Amarah Lane case.

“Our regional specialist took a look at all the documentation that was associated with this case and confirmed that we followed all applicable policies and procedures,” Rosser said.

She said staff members frequently talk about cases with the regional specialist, who is under the Virginia Department of Social Services. The Richmond office sets policy, gives guidance and often oversight but does not manage the day-to-day operations of local offices.

A call in the Lynchburg area about a complaint of abuse or neglect goes to an intake worker. That staff member asks the caller a series of questions including the child’s age, who allegedly harmed or neglected the child and where the incidents may have occurred.

If the complaint is valid, a team of six investigators takes the case. After the investigation, there can be a few different outcomes.

“Our whole goal is to keep families together so we try to find potential family members who can assist," Rosser said. "We try to put a safety plan in place for the children and then in extreme cases, children are removed."

Staff members decide if the case is medium or high risk and what services the family may need.

“If a child comes into foster care then we work very hard with all the parties involved to wrap services around the family with the goal of getting that family reunited,” she said.

They can recommend to the court that the child be removed, but it is the court that has the final decision. If a child is removed, the evaluation period continues and the department first tries to find other family members to care for the child.

“We’re working closely with the courts, with our city attorneys, to assess that that’s the right decision for that child and that family,” Rosser said.

The department gets about 1,300 calls a year and investigates around 700 cases with a staff of 11 people. Rosser says everyone receives extensive, ongoing training.

What other attorneys say
For perspective on the challenges families face in custody cases, 10 News spoke with two Roanoke attorneys who handle cases like these.

David Damico has been practicing law for 40 years.

“I think most people agree that in most instances a child does best with his or her own family and the courts are trying to preserve that family relationship,” he said.

He said the courts, social workers and lawmakers have tweaked guidelines over the years, trying to balance what can be conflicting interests -- protecting children and keeping them with their parents.

Attorney Nanda Davis said the procedures are, for the most part, working.

“It's hard to find a system that works for every situation but I think that they take their job very seriously, both social workers and court personnel and judges,” she said.

August of 2018
Fantasia Lane brought her 22-month-old daughter to Lynchburg General Hospital on Aug. 11. Police were called. Because of how seriously Amarah was hurt they arrested Lane and the toddler was taken to a Charlottesville hospital.

Pictures show her on a ventilator, unable to breathe on her own. Days later, Amarah died from her injuries. Family members on her father’s side said doctors told them the toddler’s brain activity stopped.

Documents
Documents given to 10 News show Amarah was removed from her mother’s care when she was just 3 weeks old. It was an “Emergency removal due to abuse and neglect” out of concern for Amarah’s safety, and Amarah was taken to a hospital with “burns on her face and swollen hands.”

She went into foster care. Family members on the father’s side say she was with a family for a year and a half.

The documents show Lane was working with the Lynchburg Department of Human Services to get her daughter back. The plan included a parenting coach, counseling, a bus pass and a living skills coach.

A doctor said the young mother was dealing with depression, among other issues, and on a measure of her potential to abuse her child, her high scores would  “predict future child abuse.”

Amarah’s father and his family said they tried several times to get custody. They felt they had a strong case. Her grandmother on her father’s side, Sonya Woody, works with special needs children in Roanoke City Public Schools, and the department considered giving custody to them.

In the end, a court later ruled for Lane to get her daughter back.

Signs of abuse
Cynthia Puryear, a Lynchburg resident, said she knows Lane, and gave photos to 10 News that she believes show signs of prior abuse.

They’re from Lane’s phone, from this year, from when Amarah was in her mother’s care, according to Puryear. They show bruises on the toddler.

“When I saw her, she was a totally different child. She didn't smile. She didn't get down and run and play or anything,” Puryear said.

Her son, Maurice Puryear, said he dated Fantasia Lane and spent time around Amarah. He believes he’s the father of Lane’s unborn child.

“Now I see the whole time the devil was just in her. I just didn't know she was that type of person at all,” he said.

He said he would notice marks on Amarah but Lane would say accidents caused them.

Members of Lane’s family have declined to comment to 10 News.

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