August 13, 1995 in Nation/World

State Enlists Local Teams To Help Kids Lowry Tells Cps To Get Outside Help In Abuse Cases

By The Spokesman-Review
 

A drunken Spokane mother came home and passed out on top of her infant this year. The baby suffocated.

That little-known death struck nerves at the state Department of Social and Health Services, where workers were aware the baby was in possible danger.

The state keeps watch on about 600 endangered Spokane County children at a time. Normally, only one of these children dies each year from abuse or neglect.

But less than eight months into 1995, three children under state oversight have died of possible neglect. The state also had open cases on two other children who police believe were murdered this year.

Spurred by the death of a 3-year-old Seattle girl, Gov. Mike Lowry recently announced new rules for the state’s efforts to protect kids. His executive order changes the way the Child Protective Services agency works, including in Spokane, where deaths have risen in the last year.

Nationally, child abuse and neglect reports are up almost 50 percent in the last eight years.

In Washington, reports of endangered children are made every 7-1/2 minutes.

CPS has the task of entering homes and deciding whether children are safe. Critics often call it too quick or too slow to yank kids from homes.

Lowry’s order stops CPS from working most of its serious cases in isolation. The agency now must get the input of community protection teams, panels of 10 to 15 local professionals and citizens, before making decisions.

The teams include health, law enforcement, education and other professionals.

There are already three child protection teams in the county, but they review less than a third of the 75 or more new county cases state investigators deem serious every month. Lowry insists the teams expand and review all of these cases.

Dee Wilson, director of Spokane’s 20 CPS caseworkers, said Friday he has long advocated the team approach, which he helped start in Spokane. He said the changes will further tax his thin staff, but also help prevent bad decisions.

“It’s good to have more knowledgeable eyes and ears attend to a case,” he said. “So it’s just not one person … making a life and death decision all the time.”

Wilson said he needs more than a dozen new volunteers to field two more teams by September. He also said the teams must handle more cases faster.

Three of the five apparent abuse and neglect deaths in Spokane this year were open cases that hadn’t been reviewed by the teams of community volunteers.

The agency also had been aware of past dangers facing the other two children.

Feb. 10: A five-month-old girl was suffocated by a drunken mother. The state had opened a case on the child, fearing for her safety.

April 3: A 3-year-old boy was the only one to die in a trailer fire. That case also was open at the time of the child’s death.

April 4: Two-year-old Devin Erb died in the care of a baby sitter, who has been charged with murder. The state case on the the child’s safety had been closed a little more than a year before his death.

April 8: A 6-year-old girl was killed by a car while crossing Crestline Street. Her case was open when she died.

June 14: Rachel Carver, 9, was murdered. Her uncle, Jason Wickenhagen, is charged with killing her. The state investigated her safety when she was a toddler.

Privacy laws prevent CPS from releasing the names of three of the dead children. The other two were the subject of news stories and publicized criminal investigations.

Roy Harrington, director of the state’s Children’s Services programs in Eastern Washington, said Spokane’s volunteer network is already impressive compared to other areas of the state.

But he said the agency welcomes help to solve increasingly complex cases that often require drug and alcohol experts and other professionals.

Harrington said the agency is also accustomed to being under attack.

“I think the current kind of anti-government mood gets directed at us,” he said, noting his own frustration level has risen as funding has failed to keep pace with caseload.

“We’re absolutely going to respond when we get a complaint about a kid of 5 years of age” in danger. “There’s a lot less likelihood we’ll respond to a complaint about a 14-year-old. … It’s maddening to work here.”

, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: GROUND RULES Gov. Lowry’s efforts to monitor child abuse or neglect: Child Protective Services must run serious cases past local professionals. Spokane CPS is recruiting health professionals to help make decisions regarding endangered children.

This sidebar appeared with the story: GROUND RULES Gov. Lowry’s efforts to monitor child abuse or neglect: Child Protective Services must run serious cases past local professionals. Spokane CPS is recruiting health professionals to help make decisions regarding endangered children.


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