February 28, 2009 in City

Phelps report urges agencies to share data

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Concerns about Summer Phelps – the 4-year-old who died in Spokane in 2007 at the hands of her father and stepmother – were reported eight times to Washington’s Child Protective Services. Yet other agencies involved with the family were unaware of the history and extent of abuse and neglect complaints.

A review of the case recommended that agencies that help at-risk children should have access to such information to “ensure the coordination of services” and protect vulnerable children. The “executive child fatality review” was posted Friday on Washington’s Department of Social and Health Services Children’s Administration Web site.

Summer Phelps was burned, beaten and drowned. In January, her father, Jonathan Lytle, was sentenced to 75 years in prison for his role in her death. Adriana Lytle, Summer’s stepmother, was sentenced to 62 1/2 years.

The report examines the actions of CPS employees and other professionals who had contact with the family. Among its findings and recommendations:

•Adriana Lytle’s infant son, Summer’s half-brother, was being seen by nurses and others from programs targeting at-risk mothers and newborns. Summer was at the home, too, but these professionals were not aware of the family’s complete CPS history. “Constraints around sharing of information (among) programs hinders providers and cannot ensure they are aware of key family dynamics,” the report says.

•CPS supervisors should review every referral, regardless of the decision made after the screening, keeping families’ histories in mind. Three referrals about Summer were serious enough to warrant further investigation, but that didn’t happen. A child care provider reported in January 2006 that Summer showed up with no underwear and “walks around with her hands in her pants saying ‘owie, owie.’ ”

Supervisors may have more experience spotting patterns of severe abuse that might be happening over time in a family, as was the case in Summer’s family.

John Wiley, DSHS media relations manager, said this is now the standard. “Every referral is reviewed by a CPS intake supervisor,” he said. “The supervisory review includes a review of the family referral history.”

•Visiting nurse programs only provide services to childbearing women and their babies. The report recommended exploring expanding the services to other children in the home.

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