By Dana Rebick
January 24, 2013 / q13fox.com
SEATTLE — It’s a hard number to fathom: 74 child fatalities in our state last year. Many were the victims of abuse and neglect.
“It makes me sick to my stomach because behind each and every one of those cases where the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) dropped the ball is a child,” said attorney Julie Kays.
Kays represents victims of child abuse, and isn’t surprised of the findings in a report released by the Washington state Office of the Family and Children’s Ombudsman. One of the key findings is that Child Protective Services takes too long to complete investigations.The report shows that in 2011-2012, 26% of all cases weren’t closed within 90 days, as required by state law, and another 10% are open for a year or longer.
“If any one of us decided they could pass (on) a 90-day deadline required by their boss, they’d get fired,” said Kays. “No one is being held accountable and the people who suffer in the process are those little kids, and that’s a disgrace.”
The report also found a number of abuse investigations that are completed on time were not thorough enough despite clear warning signs.
In one case, a state worker who transported an 8-month-old to and from parental visits saw bruising on the baby’s ears and reported it to the social worker and supervisor handling the case. Neither one made a report to CPS.
Other kids were allowed to stay in homes where there was no food, allegations of sexual abuse, drug use and ongoing reports of physical abuse.
“These victims want to know how DSHS could have blown investigations so badly. These are botched investigations that have answers, and you can find the answers if you look at the records of the caseworkers. Why did they ignore warnings? Why did they not perform competent child abuse investigations?” asked attorney David Moody.
Attorneys who represent victims say the fight needs to move from the courtroom to the state capitol.
“Perhaps the new governor will open his eyes and take a fresh look at this and bring about some real change that’s desperately needed to help those vulnerable kids,” said Kays.
State Ombudsman Mary Meinig made several recommendations for improvements, including making monthly child welfare visits to homes where cases are open longer than 45 days. She also requested that caseworkers give quarterly reports on the status of investigations.
The assistant secretary of Children’s Administration in DSHS sent this statement:
“The Children’s Administration works closely with the Ombudsman’s Office to be sure complaints are resolved in a timely manner and to improve outcomes for the families we serve. We share a mutual objective: the safety of children. We respect the objectivity and the work of the ombudsman and we are working with her office to address the recommendations included in the 2012 report.”
Gov. Jay Inslee and members of the state House of Representatives’ Early Learning & Human Services Committee were sent copies of the report. The state ombudsman plans to testify before the House committee in the coming weeks.
To read the entire ombudsman’s report, click here to go to the Office of the Family and Children’s Ombudsman site and click on the 2012 Annual Report.