After Boy's Death, Effort To Remove Forder Siblings Failed in Court
Kitsap Sun (Bremerton, WA)
By Derek Sheppardand Julie McCormick
State officials — and the Seabeck mother charged on Monday with manslaughter and homicide by abuse of her adopted 8-year-old son — seized on a legal technicality three years ago to avoid taking four other children out of her home only months after the boy’s death, an examination of court records shows.
On Nov. 24, 2002, Christopher Forder died on his bedroom floor of severe pneumonia. The condition of his battered body, and the rarity of fatal pneumonia in a child of that age, immediately aroused the suspicions of sheriff’s investigators and state authorities.
But Christopher’s adopted siblings, ranging in age from 5 months to 8 years old, stayed where they were, under the care of their parents, Kimberly and Robert Forder.
On Monday, Kimberly Forder, 44, was charged with homicide by abuse and first-degree manslaughter for Christopher’s death under circumstances that Kitsap County Sheriff Steve Boyer likened to torture.
Eight months after his death, the state Department of Social and Health Services convinced a Kitsap County Superior Court judge that a court-appointed advocate for the children had no legal grounds to insist the children should be taken out of the Forder home for their own protection.
A Kitsap County court commissioner initially agreed with the children’s advocate that the state had not made a good case for the remaining children’s safety in their parents’ home, but Kitsap County Superior Court Judge Karlynn Haberly ruled against him.
The Forders joined the state in the case. The Superior Court ruling was ultimately overturned by the state Court of Appeals long after the local court had relinquished jurisdiction over the remaining Forder children, who are now in Liberia with their father.
The Forders sold their home in July and moved to Liberia to do Christian missionary work.
In addition to their other children, in 2004 the Forders adopted Liberian triplets, according to a blog posting by Kimberly Forder.
Forder agreed to return to Kitsap earlier this month after being contacted by sheriff’s detectives, who learned she’d returned to Oregon from Liberia for medical care.
The break in the case came after detectives revisited the family in early July after an adult family member accused the Forder’s oldest son, Michael V. Forder, 23, of rape. Soon after, the detectives received a report from Child Protective Services in Oregon detailing allegations of abuse that preceded Christopher’s death four years earlier.
During the months following Christopher’s death, local DSHS workers monitored the Forders and their children, and the monitoring became daily and intense under conditions set by the court commissioner after the advocate’s case was denied.
“There were visits every day by either a social worker, a public health nurse or local contracted services that come in and do that," said Kathy Spears, spokeswoman for the Children’s Administration inside DSHS.
Those visits lasted for four months in 2003.
The 2005 Washington State Court of Appeals Division II decision did not solve the dispute over whether the children should be removed from the home, but it does offer one of the few public glimpses into a family that had little community visibility, as well as the workings of family court.
In the 2003 court hearing, DSHS acknowledged that the parents “admitted to Child Protective Services that they abused and neglected" Christopher and that his height and weight deteriorated from the 75-95th percentile at his adoption four years prior to the 5th percentile when he died.
But the agency didn’t judge there was “imminent risk" to the remaining children if DSHS didn’t take custody of them, according to court documents cited in the Court of Appeals decision.
The children’s advocate acting on behalf of the four children, argued that a hearing should be set to determine if they should be removed from the home. He cited Christopher’s “alleged extraordinary abuse and neglect" and a report by Dr. Yolanda Duralde that expressed “grave concerns for the children’s safety in the home."
Ultimately, lawyers for DSHS and Kimberly Forder challenged the guardian’s request for the hearing, and Haberly agreed. The appeals court ruled that Haberly “misinterpreted" the law in declaring that the guardian couldn’t ask for the hearing.
But by that time, both sides in the case had agreed upon the home monitoring.
The monitoring included psychological evaluations of the children, assessments of the Forders’ parenting skills, screening of the children’s health and development, and scheduling activities for the older children.
The so-called in-home dependency was in place between July and October 2003, then was lifted by the court, possibly at the request of the parents and their attorney.
DSHS is not permitted to discuss dependency court matters to protect the children’s confidentiality.
Court documents are also confidential and not available for public review. Spears said she also could not discuss the specifics of the case of another foster child in the Forder’s home, nor the family’s ultimate adoption of that child.
Information is not available about the circumstances surrounding the Forder’s adoption of the other three children. Christopher was first placed in the Forder’s home in September 1998 by the Oregon Department of Human Services with DSHS providing courtesy supervision until his adoption was completed in June 1999.
Oregon officials did not respond Monday to queries about the circumstances surrounding his dependency and adoption. The Forders were a licensed foster home from 1997 until some time before Christopher’s death in November 2002, Spears said, and there were never any allegations of abuse during that period.
There are no records of any complaints at any time against the family for child abuse or neglect, she said.