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Postby Marina » Sat Mar 22, 2008 9:02 pm



Abuse, Custody Battle Enrages Family
posted 12:28 pm Fri March 21, 2008 - Washington

A Northwest Washington couple, wrongly accused of child abuse, is speaking out about their personal nightmare, including having their infant daughters taken away and their desperate fight to get them back.

Greg and Julianna Caplan said the very agency that is supposed to protect children in the District, caused their daughters harm. When her two daughters were just eight-months-old, new Mother Julianna Caplan heard a thud. "And I heard her cry. So I turned around to look and she was pushing herself up off the floor and her arms went out and she bonked her head again."

Later that day, when the baby was acting out of sorts, the Caplans brought her to Children's Hospital. Doctors found retinal hemorrhaging, which is a possible sign of shaken baby syndrome. Authorities quickly launched a child abuse investigation.

"When they first told me someone might have shaken her, it just seemed so wrong," said Julianna.

Further tests revealed the baby has a pre-existing neurological condition which likely caused the hemorrhages. By that point, D.C.'s Child and Family Services Agency was already moving forward.

"Without an investigation, without a medical diagnosis, without interviewing any of the doctors, they had made a decision that my daughter had been abused," said Greg. "A social worker said to me, we're going to remove the other child," said Julianna.

After midnight, with one baby at Children's Hospital, Greg Caplan was at home, waking up his other daughter who was about to be taken away and put in foster care. "I took her outside and she was fine in my arms. And there were these four police officers and the CFSA social worker didn't even have an infant car seat," said Greg.

"It felt like everyone within that agency just thought it was no big deal to take a baby from its home and it is a big deal," said Julianna.
Peter Nickles, D.C. General Counsel, said he agonized over the Caplan case when asked by the mayor to look into it. "There was a basis to do what it was that CFSA did. If I had been in that position, faced with the facts, would I have done the same thing? I don't know because you can't go back and replay history."

Despite a police report that states, "all five examining physicians made no medical diagnoses or cause to support physical abuse," and a judge who later found "no probable cause… to believe (the baby) was abused…," the Caplans were prosecuted for more than two months for child abuse and neglect.

Although their case was eventually dismissed, they remain on D.C.'s Child Abuse Registry, pending an appeal.

"When you have five examining physicians saying this baby wasn't abused. You have a judge who rules that there is no abuse here. Why were we still caught up in this? And why did the government still come after us," asked Julianna.

"What the law says is if a mistake is going to be made, it ought to be made in favor of protecting the child until the law and the procedures have been implemented," said Nickles.

Child advocate Richard Wexler with theNational Coalition for Child Protection Reform said the Caplan's case is not unusual. "For once, CFSA took on a family that has the resources to fight back. Overwhelmingly, this is a system that inflicts its harm on poor children. Very often poverty itself is confused with neglect."

It took the Caplans nearly two weeks to get their daughters back, which is a speed they were told was record-setting. "To know that right now, there are innocent families, without a doubt, in D.C. that do not have their children and have no way of getting them back weighs on us heavily," said Greg.

Since the highly publicized Banita Jacks case, CFSA is now removing twice the number of children from their homes and putting them into foster case. Meantime, the Caplans have already racked up more than $75,000 in legal fees to get their daughters back and try to clear their name.


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Postby Marina » Sun Jul 06, 2008 3:58 pm


http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/l ... cation=rss

Tuesday, July 1, 2008 - Page updated at 02:19 AM

Judge demands state keep foster-care promises

By Maureen O'Hagan

Seattle Times staff reporter

A judge Monday ordered the state child-welfare system to begin complying with the terms of a settlement it reached four years ago with lawyers for thousands of foster children.
According to the court's order:

Within 30 days, the state must submit plans showing how it will ensure monthly visits by caseworkers, timely health screenings for children and lower caseloads. After that, the order gives the state 90 days to begin making progress toward those goals.

Within 60 days, the state has to start following its plan to ensure that siblings visit each other twice monthly. The plan for this had been approved by an outside panel, but it wasn't being followed.
BELLINGHAM — A judge Monday gave the state Department of Social and Health Services 30 days to start keeping promises it made four years ago to settle a class-action lawsuit on behalf of thousands of foster children.

Whatcom County Superior Court Judge Charles R. Snyder said the state has made plenty of promises to closely monitor the health and well-being of children in its care, but has failed to keep those promises.

"I'm not asking," he said. "I'm ordering."

The ruling, unexpected after Monday's lengthy hearing, requires the state to find ways to make monthly visits to foster children, to get them prompt health screenings, to ensure that they see their siblings regularly and to keep caseloads at a level where this is possible.

State officials said the agency is already making considerable strides toward these goals, thanks in part to recent funding.

"Each of these issues and our ability to comply with them depend on having sufficient resources," DSHS spokesman Thomas Shapley said in a statement Monday afternoon. "No matter what we do in regard to this ruling, we will continue to work on behalf of children."

Neither side thought the judge would rule immediately from the bench, given the case's complexity.

The ruling came a decade into what's known as the Braam case, named for the lead plaintiff, Jessica Braam, who had been bounced through 34 foster-care placements by the time she was 12 years old. Her case came to be seen as emblematic of problems that plagued the foster-care system. At any one time, about 10,000 Washington children are in foster care.

Attorneys for the children, led by Casey Trupin, a lawyer for Columbia Legal Services, and Tim Farris, a personal-injury lawyer from Bellingham, had argued that Jessica — and thousands like her — had been harmed by the state's broken system. Farris, for example, has represented numerous children who have been sexually or physically abused while in foster care.

After years of wrangling, the Braam case was settled in 2004. The state agreed to a timetable to meet certain measurable goals, such as reducing the number of children who bounce through placements. In addition, it created a panel to track the agency's progress.

The panel has repeatedly found that the state has fallen short. But because the panel has no enforcement authority, there were no real consequences. Monday marked the first time that the plaintiffs had thrown up their hands and taken the state back to court.

"If this isn't a stalemate, I don't know what is," Trupin argued in court.

As part of his order, Snyder laid out tight new timelines for the agency to begin making progress in four areas; he ordered the agency to figure out how much it will cost and then ask the Legislature for that money; and he demanded the agency provide the data it promised, even if that means counting it manually.

At least seven other states are also under court orders requiring improvements after being sued by the New York-based advocacy group Children's Rights. Marcia Robinson Lowry, the group's executive director, said states sometimes respond to pressure from courts by changing leadership of their child-welfare agencies or by renegotiating their settlement agreements.

"Sometimes it takes that kind of demonstration to the state, that it won't be business as usual," said Lowry.

The state, represented by Assistant Attorney General Stephen Hassett, conceded that some of the goals hadn't been met. However, he said, several new developments will allow the state to get back on track. For example, he said, the Legislature recently set aside money for sibling visits and to hire a dozen more health screeners.

He added, too, that the plaintiffs hadn't shown any actual harm as a result of the delays. Under the circumstances, the attorneys didn't even have a right to go back to court, he said. Hassett urged the judge: Hold off making any decisions until 2009; by then the state will be in compliance.

The judge saw it differently.

It's true, he said, that plaintiffs hadn't proved that the agency failed to meet professional standards — but that was partly because the agency still hadn't figured out how to measure all of its work.

Although he didn't consider the agency to "be the big ogre out there," he did agree that something had to be done to prevent the agency from "skirting" the agreement. Snyder made it clear that he'll fill that role.

"There needs to be some consequence," he said.

Hassett, arguing for the agency, asked for deadlines that were more "realistic," but was rebuffed.

"You need to do whatever it takes to comply," Snyder said.

Trupin was thrilled. "It's everything that we hoped for," he said. "The judge understood the broken promises."

Other child-welfare experts, including Richard Wexler of the Virginia-based National Coalition for Child Protection Reform, were not optimistic the Braam lawsuit would succeed with its reform-minded goals. Because Washington's foster-care system is overwhelmed, Wexler said, Judge Snyder's order is like "squeezing a balloon filled with water."

"The problem may shrink in one area, but it will bulge in another," said Wexler. "The system is too overloaded with children that don't need to be there."

Should the panel find that the agency isn't meeting the new requirements, the children's lawyers can bring the state back to court. At that point, Snyder could order fines, hold someone in contempt, or put the agency under court governance, something that's been done in other states.

"I'm giving you the opportunity," Snyder said. "What I'm hoping is [the agency] makes progress."

Seattle Times staff reporter Jonathan Martin contributed to this story.


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Postby Marina » Sun Jul 06, 2008 4:01 pm



Jul, 1, 2008

Foster care faulted in court ruling
State DSHS fails to follow settlement, local judge says

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Joined: Sat Feb 25, 2006 3:06 pm

Postby Marina » Sat Jan 10, 2009 8:13 pm

http://www.king5.com/topstories/stories ... 43f48.html

Investigators: Trial could lead to loss of grandchild forever

08:06 PM PST on Tuesday, January 6, 2009


SEATTLE -- The fate of a 3-year-old girl taken from her family and placed in foster care a year ago is about to be decided by the court system.

Last month, the KING 5 Investigators brought you the heartbreaking story of an Enumclaw toddler who was taken away from the only stable home she'd ever known and put in foster care.

AnneMarie Stuth of Enumclaw doesn't come into her granddaughter's empty room very often. Seeing her things is too painful.

AnneMarie and her husband Doug helped raise their grandchild for the first two years of her life. Their daughter had the baby at 16 and needed their help.

“She was the center of our world," said AnneMarie.

The teen mom and her baby moved away from the Stuths when the child was 9 months old. Moving out didn't go well: A doctor found the teenager let the baby get dangerously thin.

A judge is expected to rule on the fate of Doug and AnneMarie Stuth's grandchild, pictured here. She is now 3 years old.
Child Protective Services was called in and placed the child with the grandparents. They were seen as model caregivers: They didn’t have criminal histories, they both had good jobs and they rearranged their entire schedules so the baby didn’t have to be in daycare full-time.

A court appointed child advocate wrote several glowing reports about the job the grandparents were doing. He wrote, “(the baby) continues to thrive in the home", and "she's fortunate to have her grandparents as a safety net."

"We'd do anything for her," said Doug. “Our granddaughter always came first. She’s a little baby. She needs someone to protect her and take care of her and that’s what we did.”

But when the baby was two, the Stuths fell out of favor with the system.

The child's court advocate and state workers told the court the grandparents were selfish, hyper-critical, and undermined their own daughter's parenting.

The judge ordered they were no longer a placement option for the child.

The baby went into foster care.

The Stuths were devastated. They got reports that the little girl was distraught at daycare.

"She cries for me," said Doug. “You have no idea (how hard it is)."

The Stuths attended a trial Tuesday in juvenile court in Seattle. The state is trying to terminate the young mother’s parental rights. Through a witness, the assistant attorney general said the teenager wasn’t mature enough or motivated enough to care for her daughter.

If her parental rights are terminated, the Stuths may never see their granddaughter again because the state wants the foster parent -- a single mom -- to adopt the child.

"It's impossible to put into words to explain to anybody that your family member, your granddaughter who you've raised since an infant could just be gone from your life in an instant," said AnneMarie.

The Department of Social and Health Services wouldn't answer our questions about the case, but a top official who’s quit the job since our interview defended the department’s actions.

"The first requirement is that any placement be in the best interest of the child and we are to look to relatives for that and we do,” said Cheryl Stephani, former Director of the Children’s Administration of DSHS. “But we can't forget that we always need to be looking at the best interest of the child."

Court records show the child is bonded with her grandparents. She makes cards and pictures for them all the time. And at a scheduled visit with her grandparents last October, the toddler’s face lit up with excitement when she spotted her grandma and grandpa.

"To see the excitement in her eyes and know how we feel inside, there's no way to put that into words," said AnneMarie.

State law is clear that if a child can't live with parents, relatives must be considered first before foster care. But in this case, the state is so committed to having the child adopted by the foster parent that they tried to seal the deal before trial.

A few weeks ago, an assistant attorney general sent a settlement offer to the young biological mom. It stated if she voluntarily gave up her parental rights and allowed the foster mother to adopt the child, she and the grandparents could visit the little girl four times a year and get two pictures of her in the mail every year.

The biological mother would not agree to those conditions and instead is at the trial, fighting to keep her child.

The court proceeding continues Wednesday.

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Postby Marina » Sat May 09, 2009 8:16 pm

http://www.king5.com/topstories/stories ... e.html?rss

Investigators: State agency breaks laws, robs foster child of stable home

09:30 AM PDT on Wednesday, April 29, 2009


This is the story of a 4-year-old foster child nicknamed "Poca," who's about to be torn away from the people she calls mom and dad. Her entire life she's lived with a Snohomish County family who considers her one of their own. KING 5 Investigator Susannah Frame exposes how the state has made mistakes, stonewalled the court system, and broken laws in this heartbreaking case.

The only stable home the little girl has ever known is with her foster parents Amy and Dick Langley of Snohomish County. Poca’s about to turn 4, and about to be taken away.

"It's like being told your child's going to die in front of you and you have this amount of time before your child dies,” said Amy. "It's grief. It is unbelievable grief."

Poca was born a very sick preemie. She weighed just 2 pounds, 4 ounces and had several neurological problems. Doctors suspected she’d been exposed to drugs in utero, but couldn't prove it. Her parents were young and troubled: the dad is a convicted felon for selling meth. The mother had a prior baby die after testing positive for meth at birth.

Child Protective Services, CPS, took Poca away when they thought she was at risk of being abused or neglected. That’s how she ended up with the Langleys at 4 months of age.

The Langleys are well respected, well trained foster parents who have taken in 20 special needs children like Poca over the years.

"It's our passion. Our passion is medically fragile and drug affected babies," said Amy. “We really wanted to help the children who can’t find homes otherwise.”

The Langleys were praised for their work with Poca by state social workers, the biological parents, and her doctors.

The only stable home Poca has ever known is with her siblings and foster parents, Amy and Dick Langley of Snohomish County, WA.

"Her foster family, they're not just good, they're spectacular. In this environment she (Poca) has prospered, made great developmental gains and has become a very different child," said her pediactric neurologist, Dr. Stephen Glass.

As months, years, and milestones went by: birthdays, holidays, and summer vacations, Poca bonded with her foster family. When asked if the Langleys consider her their child, Amy said, “I do. She's our little girl. She's our baby. She tells me all the time, I your baby, Mama."

There’s a federal law that applies to children like Poca who are taken away from their birth parents. When a child has been in foster care for 15 months, and the biological parents still haven’t proven they can do the job, the state is mandated to file papers to terminate parental rights. But in Poca's case the state hasn't filed any papers, and it's been nearly four years. State workers have clearly violated this law and state laws.

DSHS officials say this case is taking longer than most, but their mission is to place kids back with their biological families.

"That's what we're here for, to reunify families," said Sandy Kinney, who heads up children’s services out of the DSHS Everett office, where Poca’s case is being handled.

Kinney says some parents take longer than others to get it together, “In any case where we can reunify families successfully and safely that's the right thing to do, so sometimes change takes a little longer for people to do."

KING 5 has found many efforts to help the biological parents get Poca back haven't gone well.

- An occupational therapist reported the dad slept through most of the sessions.

- A traveling nurse said the mother “refused to cooperate” when she was trying to teach her how to care for a medically fragile baby.

- The mother's MySpace page talked of drinking, clubbing, and bailing friends out of jail.

- In November, the dad admitted drinking again, which violated a court order to stay clean and sober.

Dave Lindsey was a court-appointed investigator for Poca. Five times he recommended the birth parent's rights be terminated and five times he was ignored by DSHS workers. Lindsey quit the case in protest.

When asked how strongly he felt that the child should not return to the birth parents he said, “I wouldn't have recommended it if I wasn't strong about it. I mean that's a tough decision to take your kids away. It wasn’t in the child’s best interest to go back to that home."

He wasn't alone. We’ve uncovered documents showing a social worker, who quit the case out of frustration, wrote Poca would be at "significant risk to thrive in the family home." She also wrote “it is very concerning that after nearly 3 years of being in foster care, the parents still do not seem to understand (her special needs) and how to address them.” A state evaluator said she should be "adopted by her foster parents."

Poca’s neurologist wrote because of her developmental disorders it's "crucial" she stay with the Langleys. After that DSHS removed Poca from his care. "The decision to remove this child from their care is unconscionable," said Dr. Stephen Glass. "I am irate. I am in disbelief that this happened."

There's a reason federal law requires a speedy, permanent solution for foster children like Poca. It's traumatizing to yank children from the place they call home.

"It's being in limbo that's most damaging to the child because the child doesn't know where they're supposed to go and where they're supposed to be," said Gary Malkasian of the Foster Care Justice Alliance “This has a cost. Whenever they’re moved they feel like, you don’t want me, you got rid of me.”

People who've worked on the case tell KING 5 DSHS had a one track mindset: place Poca with her parents no matter what. No matter how long it takes.

Dr. Glass has worked on CPS cases for years, and says he hasn’t seen anything like this. He describes the case handling as "capricious, bumbling, disorganized, haphazard, and decisions have been made that are unfounded and unbelievable."

New experts assigned to the case, and a judge, say after all these years Poca's birth parents are finally ready take care of her, with a strong possibility she'll never see the Langleys again.

"We've tried to explain to her that no matter what, we will fight for her, her whole life,” said Amy. “We will not give up. We will love her no matter where she is."

Update: There has been an abrupt change in this case. An emergency hearing was held yesterday to postpone Poca's reunification with her biological parents. Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Anita Farris said in open court that the birth parents are "lying and hiding” information from social workers and she was suspicious they were drinking and doing drugs again. Despite that, the judge also ruled Poca cannot stay with her foster family. Why's that?

There's something you don't know about the Langleys and their battle with DSHS. We'll expose that side of the case on KING 5 News at 11 p.m. on Thursday and on KING5.com.

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Postby Marina » Sat May 09, 2009 8:34 pm

http://www.king5.com/localnews/investig ... 8ad6b.html

Investigators: Family says it's target of DSHS retaliation

10:25 AM PDT on Friday, May 1, 2009


The KING 5
Investigators continue their investigation into the handling of a case by the Department of Social and Health Services. This story raises the question - is the state practicing good social work or retaliation against foster parents who speak up for their children?

The Langleys are set to lose Poca, the child they consider their daughter after Child Protective Services reported they'd neglected a different child.

Poca has struggled from day one. She was born a very sick preemie, weighing just 2 pounds, 4 ounces, with neurological problems.

"This is a very fragile child, a child with special needs with a very serious beginning to her life who needed more than the usual amount of consistency, love and support," said her pediatric neurologist, Dr. Stephen Glass.

CPS didn't think Poca would get that at home. Her parents had a history of trouble. The dad is a convicted felon for selling meth. The mother had a prior baby die after testing positive for meth at birth.

So the state placed Poca, as an infant, with foster parents Amy and Dick Langley.

That was nearly four years ago. To Poca, the Langleys' home is her home, and the state's about to take her away from it.

"We love her more than anything," Amy Langley said. "I tell her every day I love her with all of my heart and I will love her forever."

The Langleys are not afraid to speak up when problems have come up in the case. Social workers, trying to reunite Poca with her birthparents, withheld negative information about them from the judge.

The child's former court-appointed advocate wrote DSHS "concealed information" and "denied information existed." He quit in protest when his case manager told him to alter reports to the judge. When he refused, Lindsay said the manager changed his reports for him.

Amy and Dick Langley of Snohomish County are set to lose Poca, their 4-year-old foster child.
The Langleys complained when social workers kept telling the judge Poca's visits with her biological parents were going well.

That's not true. Her pediatrician reports they've been "traumatic" and have cuased "stress."

Her neurologist says he has seen firsthand in his office a regression since Poca started overnight visits four months ago. “She will go downhill if she is moved. She has gone downhill with weekend visitations,” said Dr. Glass. “She will come back irritable, disconsolate, unable to feed, unable to self-soothe; taking days to recover back to her baseline.”

The Langleys complained when state workers discounted a slew of medical providers who wrote Poca should stay with them, given her bonding and special needs.

"The decision to remove this child from their care is unconscionable," Dr. Glass said.

"She doesn't understand DNA or genetics or family trees," Dick Langley said. "The only thing she understands is that we're the only family she knows."

When no one listened, they complained outside the system. They've testified before legislative committees.

"We are told over and over and over again, we can't help you," Amy Langley said. "You're foster parents, you have no rights."

They've written every single legislator, the attorney general, the state ombudsman for children, Supreme Court Justice Bobbe Bridge and the governor.

"All trying to get somebody to understand that this is an injustice, this is wrong," Amy Langley said.

Speaking up backfired.

After all that complaining they got a letter in the mail. DSHS intended to revoke their foster license.

CPS found them guilty of neglecting their 6-year-old-son Taylor.

Without a foster license, Poca would have to go.

"It's horrible, it's feels like someone has ripped your heart out," Amy Langley said."Because this is your life. This is a child. This is a child, and somebody's going to take her away, and what is that going to do to her?"


Dick and Amy Langley adopted Taylor as a baby. He was born addicted to heroin and as he got older, the Langleys say he became aggressive and dangerous.

"He attacked everybody," Amy Langley said. "It didn't matter who you were, how big you were."

Two years ago the Langleys decided they couldn't do it anymore. They wanted Taylor out and sent him to live on a farm with a family friend.

Some people might question that decision. But the Langleys have a lot of experience with special needs children. For nearly 10 years the state has been entrusting them with medically fragile foster children like Poca. They've cared for 20 different foster kids over the years, including drug-affected babies, a blind baby, and developmentally delayed children.

The Langleys say Taylor was a very different case.


Two years ago Amy and Dick Langley sent their adopted son Taylor to live on a farm with a family friend. They say Taylor was aggressive and dangerous.
By age 6, he'd broken Amy's nose, set fires, strangled animals, pulled a screwdriver on a friend and attacked their younger children.

They say they made the decision to protect their other kids, including four daughters and Poca, their foster child.

"I don't know what else we could have done," Dick Langley said.

A few months into the stay, CPS got a call that Taylor could be in trouble. A farm visitor said the Langleys had "pawned off" a son who was being exposed to an "illegal nightclub" run in the barn. CPS investigated, finding them guilty of neglect.

"We removed him because that was in the best interest for him and for our family," Amy Langley said. "So how is that neglect?"

KING 5 looked into the state's investigation. CPS said the Langleys "abandoned" Taylor and didn't care what he was doing. But we found the CPS investigator never interviewed his caregiver, the farm owner Jeff Schock.

"I've never been asked anything about Taylor," Schock said.

Schock said the Langleys checked on their son all the time.

"They would bring food in boxes all the time," he said. "They were here constantly."

CPS found the Langleys didn't care that their son was exposed to "strippers" at drunken barn parties.

KING 5 obtained video from those parties - concerts held on weekends. Many people told us these were family friendly events that didn't feature nude dancers.

CPS also said the Langleys must be exaggerating Taylor's dangerous nature because he behaved just fine in school.

But KING 5 obtained a letter from his teacher showing the opposite. She writes he was difficult, and one day he "pinched a girl's back, stomped on her feet, and twisted another girl's arm." They almost "called the police."

The Langleys believe they're targets of retaliation by DSHS, pegged as troublemakers for complaining about Poca's case.

"We have been threatened many times, if you aren't quiet, you will lose your license, you will be sued, you will lose your foster child, and that is exactly what they've done," Amy Langley said.

DSHS official Sandy Kinney says their goal is what's best for children - not to punish the people who care for them.

KING 5 Investigator Susannah Frame asked her: "From where you sit does the department retaliate against foster parents who complain?"

"Once again it gets back to the focus and that not being the child, and getting down to the facts of the case, not the emotional aspects of the case," Kinney said.

The timing of the Langleys' neglect finding is suspicious. CPS investigations are supposed to take 90 days, max. This one took more than a year.

It finally wrapped up with a black mark on the Langleys record, after they repeatedly complained.

"They want us cut out of this picture completely," Dick Langley said.

The Langleys are fighting back. Their home's in foreclosure after spending all they have on attorneys in hopes of overturning the decision to keep Poca in the only home she's ever known.

"We didn't care if we lost the house," Dick Langley said. "We didn't care if we were living in a van by the river as long as the family was intact, and that was our goal, to keep the family intact, and she's our family."

Update: There's been a major turn of events with the Langely's neglect charge.

An appeals judge has just issued a detailed, 36-page ruling which states DSHS was wrong.

Administrative Law Judge Laura Valente has ruled the Langleys did not neglect Taylor or any other child. She's ordered the state to restore the Langleys clean record as foster parents, immediately.

In a shocking move to the Langleys, that’s not good enough. As of tonight DSHS and the Attorney General’s Office is still forging ahead with their plan to take Poca away from the Langleys. She's not going to her birthparents either. Just last week Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Anita Farris found they are still not ready to take care of her because she suspects the biological parents may be drinking and doing drugs again and that they’ve been “lying” and “hiding information” from social workers.

The plan is to move Poca to a new foster home soon, with people she’s met only a few times. DSHS tells us their hands are tied because Judge Farris refuses to let Poca stay with the Langleys, despite the fact they’ve been exonerated after an extensive hearing before Judge Valente. In a statement to KING 5 late Thursday, DSHS says Judge Farris made the following ruling in March, which forces them to take Poca away: “Regardless of how the (appeal) hearing turns out the Langleys are not an appropriate placement, based on the court’s independent assessment of the evidence. The court remains concerned regarding return home (to biological parents), but also recognizes [the child] cannot remain with the Langleys. The court also recognizes that it would be traumatic to place [the child] in an unknown foster home.”

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Postby Marina » Sat May 23, 2009 7:35 pm

http://news.opb.org/article/4975-troubl ... rosshairs/

Trouble in Colville, WA: Child Protective Services In The Crosshairs

Colville, WA May 14, 2009 6 a.m.

To paraphrase Shakespeare, something is rotten in the remote northeast corner of Washington State. It’s the child welfare system.

A new Ombudsman report finds a “serious crisis of confidence” that’s putting children and families at risk.

The report seems to confirm what community leaders have been saying for months. Correspondent Austin Jenkins recently visited Colville, WA and filed this story.

It’s a spring evening in Colville. Leigh Roubideaux’s daughters - ages 7 and 4 – are playing on their swing set in their front yard.

Leigh Roubideaux’s daughters were taken by CPS in 2008
It was a very different picture last August. That’s when Roubideaux’s kids strayed into the busy street in front of their house.

Someone called the police and soon Child Protective Services was knocking at the door. Roubideaux - who has developmental disabilities – remembers that day well.

Leigh Roubideaux: “I was petrified. I was in tears.”

CPS took the kids away. It took three weeks and the support of friends and neighbors – like local businesswoman Lisa Shinn - for Roubideaux to get her daughters back. Shinn thinks CPS discriminated against Roubideaux because of her disability and the fact she’s Native American.

Lisa Shinn: “We would all have our children taken away if someone saw them playing in the street everyone would have their children taken by CPS if that is the criteria.”

This is just one example of a litany of complaints against Children and Family Services in Northeast Washington.

Stevens County Prosecutor Tim Rasmussen sits in an easy chair in his living room with two accordion files at his feet. In those files are the stories of people who feel they’ve been wronged by state child welfare officials.

Tim Rasmussen: “There’s a lot of human tragedy here. There’s a lot of tragic, tragic situations.”

For the past many months -- at the request of a state lawmaker -- Rasmussen has collected accounts of what he calls a “pattern of misconduct” by the Colville, Washington office of Children and Family Services.

In one of the more high profile cases, five children were removed from the home of a well-known foster family. A judge later called it a “slap in the face” and an “overreaction” that resulted in “tremendous upheaval” for the children.

Some of them were siblings who were separated from each other. Rasmussen’s theory is that caseworkers overreacted because of something horrible that happened in Colville back in 2005.

A 7-year-old boy named Tyler DeLeon was starved to death by his foster mother.

Tim Rasmussen: “What’s happening now is just a different chapter in the book if you would. Tyler DeLeon is one chapter and they missed the mark in one direction and in some of the current cases they appear to have missed the mark in another direction.”

Prosecutor Rasmussen recently wrote a letter to Governor Chris Gregoire that says he believes there’s a “culture of deceit and deception” within the Colville child welfare office.

He’s even considering criminal charges against a CPS worker for violating a court order.

Rasmussen isn’t the only one critical of Children and Family Services. Patty Markel runs the CASA program in Stevens County. These are the Court Appointed Special Advocates who represent the children in child dependency cases. She alleges that CPS caseworkers act in a “willy-nilly” fashion that’s personality driven and motivated by a fear of lawsuits.

Patty Markel: “What I see now is more liability-driven decision making. And that’s concerning because that’s not necessarily – this whole system is supposed to be about the best interests of children”

You hear a similar theme from Barry Bacon - a family physician in Colville. He says CPS workers often ignore the advice of local doctors like him. Instead, from what he’s seen, they take kids to Spokane – 70 miles away – to see the doctor.

Dr. Barry Bacon: “They would rather continue with their opinion and destroy a child rather than admit that they’ve made a mistake. It’s unbelievable. I mean it’s like the Wild West. They are a law unto themselves which is one of the biggest issues we have with them.”

The Department of Social and Health Services has reviewed the cases flagged by Prosecutor Rasmussen and in a recent report finds no wrongdoing by caseworkers. But in a separate investigation by state Ombudsman Mary Meinig, a disturbing portrait of the Colville office emerges.

Over the past two years, the Ombudsman’s office has received 62 complaints regarding child welfare practices in the Northeast corner of Washington. So far in 16 of those cases, the Ombudsman found – in her words – “violations of law, policy, procedure; clearly unreasonable actions; or simply poor social work practice.”

Beyond that Meinig says her investigation revealed a “culture of pervasive distrust” between CPS workers and other professionals in the community. But rather than pinning all the blame on CPS, Meinig says everyone involved needs to do a better job of working together.

Mary Meinig: “Our report says the kids are at-risk and families are at-risk because of the lack of trust, cooperation, collaboration and communication that’s going on within the community.”

The situation is so serious, Meinig believes, that the lives of vulnerable children are on the line.

Mary Meinig: “Well if it doesn’t improve I would say it would be a matter of time before we have an even more serious incidents – possible child fatality or near fatality.”

Like others, Meinig believes past tragedies – like the starvation death of Tyler DeLeon – are influencing the decisions made by CPS workers and have led to a climate of distrust.

In haunting language, she writes the “ghosts of children past...sit in the collective conscience as reminders of where the system failed.” But Meinig’s report is not devoid of hope. She recommends several steps to start rebuilding trust.

This includes bringing in an outside professional mediator and creating a diverse community advisory board. How does Children and Family Services respond to all this?

Marty Butkovich, DSHS Regional Administrator: “Obviously relationships need to be improved.”

Marty Butkovich is the Administrator who oversees the Colville CPS office. He acknowledges there’s been a breakdown in communication. But he calls his staff “exceptional.” And he says he’s seen nothing to suggest his employees need to be disciplined or fired.

Marty Butkovich: “We’re not the bad guy. This is very difficult work, very emotional work and some very difficult decisions are being made as it relates to kids and people have strong feelings about some of those decisions and not always in agreement.”

As for whether a fear of lawsuits is driving decisions to take children away, Butkovich admits that does weigh on caseworkers’ minds.

Marty Butkovich: “Liability is something that is very obvious and tort and being sued and deaths – all the real bad things that are out there – can be in a social workers mind and if they’re stressed and tired and so ya it can be there.”

Department of Social and Health Services officials say they believe relations in Northeast Washington have improved over the past year – but there’s still work to be done. The agency plans to put a corrective action plan into place. The problems in Colville have even reached Governor Chris Gregoire. She said in response to the Ombudsman report she wants the agency to – quote - “refocus on what’s important” - the children they’re charged with protecting.

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