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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Prosecutor alleges ‘pattern of misconduct’ at DSHS

A “pattern of misconduct” plagues the Colville office of the Department of Social and Health Services and has resulted in the wrongful removal of foster children, in one instance described in a court ruling as a “draconian solution” to a financial dispute, according to the county prosecutor. The sharply worded letter, sent Wednesday to Gov. Chris Gregoire, Attorney General Rob McKenna, and more than 30 state legislators and state employees, follows months of investigation by Stevens County Prosecutor Tim Rasmussen and accuses the office of “shopping” for doctors and counselors to support its agenda, ignoring rules regarding the removal of foster children and contradicting recommendations from health care providers. Rasmussen’s letter, which calls for state intervention, includes a complaint from a doctor who said a baby became addicted to drugs after being placed on a morphine drip, despite his assurances that the child did not have methamphetamine in its system as state workers suspected. “It is really unfortunate that this child was put through this degree of trauma at such an early age and I believe it can only be laid at the feet of the (Child Protective Services) workers,” wrote Dr. Barry J. Bacon in a letter dated Nov. 18. Bacon said Friday that he stands by the letter. “I believe that there are some serious problems” with the department, Bacon said. State Rep. Joel Kretz, R-Wauconda, asked Rasmussen to investigate after receiving what he called “an inordinate” number of complaints about the office. Kretz spoke with department ombudsman Mary Meining last August and she looked into complaints, but Kretz said Friday he’s hoping for drastic changes in how such complaints are handled. “I don’t think conventional means are going to get to the bottom of this,” Kretz said. “There’s a culture in that Colville office that needs to be weeded out and have some light shown on it.” The Colville office serves Stevens, Ferry and Pend Oreille counties. Connie Lambert-Eckel, deputy regional administrator for the DSHS children’s administration, said she received the letter yesterday and couldn’t comment on specifics. The department has been working with Rasmussen on his concerns for some time, Lambert-Eckel said, but his letter contains new claims. “We will be diving into these concerns very appropriately, very responsively, very quickly and very early next week,” she said. Rasmussen was openly critical of the agency following the high-profile death of Tyler DeLeon, who died of dehydration in 2005 at the age of 7. DeLeon’s adoptive mother, Carole DeLeon, was sentenced to six years in prison after pleading guilty to charges of criminal mistreatment in a plea deal. Rasmussen at the time said caseworkers failed to act on signs that the boy was malnourished. “I think lots of people did let Ty down, starting with the people in the Department of Social and Health Services,” he said in 2007. The state of Washington recently paid a settlement of more than $6 million to children who were under Carole DeLeon’s care, including $180,000 to the estate of Tyler DeLeon. Rasmussen’s letter, which doesn’t mention the DeLeon case, details one instance in which a judge blasted the department for removing five foster children on what the court ruled was a “very questionable basis.” “The court found that removal by the department was done primarily for financial reasons,” Rasmussen wrote. “The court noted its ‘displeasure and sense of outrage at the department having operated the way it did in removing the children,’ and speaks of the department ‘having done a grave disservice’ to the children.” When the social workers tried to remove two other foster children from that home, the judge refused and called their request “child abuse,” the letter reads. “Something is very wrong,” Rasmussen wrote. The letter includes accusations that children have been subjected to forensic examination for sexual molestation when no allegations of abuse exist and ignoring recommendations from Court Appointed Special Advocates. “I hope something comes of it, but we’ll just have to see,” Rasmussen said Friday. Kretz said the department hides behind bureaucracy and privacy laws. “We’ve gotten case after case that I can say I have not had my questions answered,” he said. “There needs to be another method to look into problems rather than self examination by an agency.”