Executive mismanagement, bad law result in child’s death

Department of Children, Youth and Families and governor should be held accountable, law changed

OLYMPIASenate Republican Leader John Braun, R-Centralia, released the following statement after foster families protested at the Capitol yesterday against a bill they believe is partly to blame for the death of a 3-week-old Port Townsend infant born with fentanyl in its system who died after being placed in the care of its father by the Department of Children, Youth and Families. The father is a drug addict without a stable home.

The protesters demanded the repeal of House Bill 1227, also known as the “Keep Families Together Act.” The law made it more difficult for children to be removed from homes by child protective services. It requires proof of imminent physical harm or risk. Although intended to protect low-income families, it is negatively affecting children from parents who are active fentanyl addicts. This was the case with the death of the infant in Port Townsend.

DCYF, an executive agency overseen by the governor, reportedly chose to place the infant with the father, who had passed a urinalysis drug test, without supervision. The baby’s mother is also reportedly addicted to drugs.

Immediately following the placement, the father stopped complying with DCYF requirements and would not return messages. Police discovered him in a homeless encampment. He told police the infant was dead and led them to bushes in a Port Townsend park where the body was hidden. The baby’s mother told police the father passed the drug test by purchasing clean urine on the black market.

“How many more children are going to die because of laws that favor offenders or because DCYF either doesn’t do its job or does it so poorly that they place an infant with unsuitable, and even dangerous, adults? I wish this kind of tragedy was rare, but it is not. Children like this baby are victims of their family situation, but they are further failed by the Legislature and DCYF. There should be a full audit of the laws that govern DCYF’s policies and procedures on child welfare and safety. We need to take a hard look and see if we can identify things that need to be corrected and stop pretending the child-welfare system isn’t broken.

“Although House Bill 1227 was intended to help low-income families keep their children, it is hurting low-income children by keeping them with caregivers who can’t even take care of themselves. The infant who died should have been removed from his parents and placed with someone with a stable home and without a recent history of addiction.

“The state has paid hundreds of millions of dollars in settlements to families who have lost children or vulnerable adults as a result of DCYF’s terrible decisions and laws that undermine children’s safety. Authorities are still looking for Oakley Carlson, the Grays Harbor girl who was taken from a safe and stable foster home by DCYF and put back in the care of her parents, despite their history of drug use, child endangerment and controlled-substance charges. Last year, Representative Jim Walsh sponsored the ‘Oakley Carlson Act’ to improve the operation and oversight of Washington’s child-welfare system, but Democrats killed it in committee. He has reintroduced it this year, but Democrats let it die.

“Legislative Democrats seem resistant to acknowledging the magnitude of this problem or allowing anyone to fix it.”