March 25, 2009 in Opinion

Our View: Report on DSHS in Colville warrants review

 

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Stevens County Prosecutor Tim Rasmussen was asked by state Rep. Joel Kretz, R-Wauconda, to look into repeated complaints about the child-protection workers in the Department of Social and Health Services office in Colville, which serves Pend Oreille, Stevens and Ferry counties. What he discovered after several months is contained in a sharply worded letter sent to the governor, attorney general and about 30 lawmakers and state workers.

The blunt report is sure to raise temperatures, but cooler heads need to focus on the substance to determine whether the allegations are accurate. Rasmussen accuses the office of a pattern of abuse in which foster children are taken from homes for questionable reasons. To accomplish this, DSHS workers in the Colville office are accused of selectively choosing doctors and counselors who were amenable to the office’s agenda.

Rasmussen was the prosecutor who worked out the plea deal in the case of Tyler DeLeon, who died of dehydration in 2005 after undergoing long-term abuse from his adoptive mother, who is serving a six-year sentence.

In that case, Rasmussen was critical of the state for acting too slowly, or not at all. His just-released report often alleges that DSHS is too aggressive in removing foster children from homes. He notes a judge’s outrage at the agency for removing five children from a family and a request to remove two more for what appeared to be financial reasons. He also accuses the state of conducting sexual abuse examinations of children when no allegations have been leveled and ignoring the advice of court-appointed advocates.

The reality of Child Protective Services is that case workers can be accused of being too intrusive or too hands-off. Whether children should be removed from homes is always going to be an emotional issue. Still, criticism should be taken seriously to bring about the best balance. DSHS hasn’t had much time to look at Rasmussen’s complaints, so it has yet to offer a substantive answer. Kretz isn’t convinced that the agency’s self-evaluation is working.

It is too soon to decide whether the Colville office is in need of a serious shake-up based on these latest allegations. But the office certainly came up short in the DeLeon case, so these charges merit a close look. Plus, the agency does have an ombudsman who hasn’t shied from leveling criticism in the past.

For the sake of children, the adults need to set aside hurt feelings and embark on an objective review of the allegations. And the results of that inquiry should be made public.


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