File Details Foster Child’s Life

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(Memphis)  The Tennessee Department of Children's Services turned over more records in court last week that detail interaction between workers and now-deceased children.

The records are the second batch released by DCS through court order. There were supposed to be 50 files, but nine were missing.

WREG On Your Side Investigators discovered one of the files was for a Shelby County child who died in a boating accident with his foster father. It was a sad ending for what was supposed to be a new beginning.

Living along Coro Lake means quiet, relaxing days. So, it's easy to see how neighbors still remember the night of September 11, 2011.

One told us he came home to rescue crews and chaos. Those responders were searching for 9-year-old Travell Lark and his foster father, Jimmy Austin.

The two drowned in a boating accident. WREG spoke to Austin's wife Annette after it happened.

"My husband jumped right in behind him, to get him out, not knowing the lake was like 30 feet deep on that side," Austin said during that 2011 interview.

Lark's story is outlined in a file identified as Case #87. Lark, a victim of abuse, was described as intelligent and articulate, although he continued to act out.

The child's biological family had an extensive history dating back to 2004 with the Department of Children's Services.

An aunt gained custody in 2005. DCS took him into custody in August of 2011 after the troubled child continued having problems.

His file includes detailed case notes from before and after his death. There was even a meeting the day before he died.

Lark called his foster parents "nice" and the case manager notes the boy's bond with Mr. Austin, saying his smile grew larger when talking about things like fishing and playing basketball.

The Austins had previously served as foster parents, but were planning to take a break. A case recording summary reveals Jimmy Austin told his wife when discussing whether to foster or not, " If we don't help, who will?"

Austin believed he could have an impact on Lark's life.

The file also indicated Lark's foster parents were considering adoption. It appears caseworkers followed proper protocol prior to and after the child's death.

There were additional meetings for the next several months with the biological and foster family. Because he was in state custody, DCS paid for the child's funeral.