Local news

Standard review in Phelps case

A Washington child welfare official has declined to call for an executive-level review of Summer Phelps’ death by abuse, mostly because the 4-year-old Spokane girl had so little contact with state agencies.

Cheryl Stephani, assistant secretary for the Children’s Administration, said this week that a standard review will be held to look into circumstances that left the girl abused and fatally beaten on March 10.

“We will scrutinize every aspect of this case,” Stephani said.

But because Summer was not in state custody and her family had no open referrals for child abuse or neglect, the situation does not rise to the level of a rare executive child fatality review, she said.

“The way I have interpreted ‘actively receiving services’ is when there was a dependency or dependency was recently determined,” said Stephani, who convenes executive reviews at her own discretion. Since 2000, the agency has conducted only six executive reviews.

Summer’s father, Jonathan Lytle, 28, and stepmother, Adriana Lytle, 32, are awaiting trial on charges of homicide by abuse in connection with the child’s death.

Files on Summer’s case have not been released, but it appears that her contact with Child Protective Services workers was limited to an allegation of neglect in January 2006. That referral appeared to be unfounded, said Kathy Spears, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Social and Health Services.

However, Adriana Lytle also was a voluntary participant in the state-contracted First Steps program, which provides support for poor women who are pregnant or have new babies.

On the day Summer died, a nurse from the Family Home Care and Hospice Corp. program, a First Steps provider, visited Adriana Lytle and her 8-month-old son, Jonny.

“A nurse can visit, but that doesn’t mean there are active services,” Spears said.

Representatives from the First Steps program will be included in the child fatality review, which is expected to be held in June, said Nicole LaBelle, a program manager in the Spokane DSHS office.

Reviews are required when a child dies in state custody or if the child has had contact with the child welfare system in the previous year. Executive reviews are discretionary.

An executive review is not required to fully understand every child death analyzed by the Children’s Administration, said Mary Meinig, director of the Office of Family and Children’s Ombudsman. Executive reviews often are high-profile events that include legislators and a range of agency representatives.

Still, Meinig said she plans to conduct a separate investigation of Summer Phelps’ death and to come to Spokane as an independent observer of the other agency’s process.

“The question will be, ‘How many other eyes were on this child?’ ” Meinig said Tuesday. “Did we know enough to be even involved enough to make a referral?”



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