Saturday, December 8, 2012

Child Dies Just Hours After CPS Case Is Closed


By Diana Hefley, Herald Writer

Social workers were investigating allegations of neglect, involving 19-month-old Chantel Craig before the girl died Oct. 8. Investigators say Chantel was a victim of parental neglect. She and her sister were found in a car on the Tulalip Indian Reservation. Records show that the girls were suffering from malnutrition and severe dehydration. Their mother has been charged in connection with Chantel's death.

Child Protective Services had launched an investigation on Dec. 2, 2011, after a relative reported concerns about the welfare of the girls. The caller alleged that Carlson's young daughters had lice and open sores from scratching the bites. The tipster said the girls were dirty and only given bottles, not solid foods. She also reported that Carlson drank daily, often to the point of passing out.
A state social worker immediately contacted a tribal social worker about the allegations.
The state and the Tulalip Tribes have an agreement sharing responsibility for investigations of abuse or neglect allegations and delivering child welfare services to Tulalip children. The agreement clarifies the role of the state and is aimed at enhancing cooperation between the two governments.
The roles of state and tribal social workers vary depending on the local agreements between DSHS and specific tribes, officials said. Additional layers of complexity are added by the state and federal Indian Child Welfare Acts. The laws govern how states respond to allegations of abuse or neglect involving Indian children and spell out the tribes' jurisdiction over their children. The federal act was passed in 1978 in response to the disproportionate number of Indian children being removed from their homes and placed away from their tribes. The state law was passed last year.
The Tulalip Tribes began assuming jurisdiction over dependency cases more than a decade ago. The Tulalips' child welfare services program, beda?chelh, investigates all reports of child abuse and neglect. That includes any complaints that aren't accepted for further investigation by state social workers, lead case manager Jennifer Walls said.
"We go out on all referrals. We believe they are all important," Walls said.
On their end, the Tulalips have established public policies to address child welfare issues, including the rights of parents and tribal court's jurisdiction over Tulalip children. The guiding principal, according to the code, is that "Indian children are the most valued resources of the Tulalip Tribes and constitute the future of the Tribes. The Indian family and home are important for the support of Indian Children."
Meanwhile, DSHS has specific units designated to the cases involving tribal children. That's in large part because of the complex federal mandates involving Native American children. They are tasked with working with the sovereign nations and building relationships that respect and honor the values of the child's tribal culture while keeping children safe, state officials said.
"We have a very good working relationship with the Tulalip Tribes," Gilbert said.
In this case, two separate governments assigned social workers to investigate the allegations of neglect. From the beginning, they had difficulties locating Carlson. Once they received the relative's call in December 2011, they tried on three separate occasions to find the family.
The tribal social worker told his state counterpart he would be asking tribal police officers to try to locate Carlson. The mother reportedly called and agreed to meet with the social workers the next day.
The social workers visited Carlson, who reportedly had moved in with the girls' father. The social workers noted that the home and children were clean.
"Children appeared to be healthy and had no scratches," the social worker wrote.
The parents reportedly admitted they drank alcohol but said they had contacted authorities to be evaluated for substance abuse problems and possible treatment. They agreed to sign a safety plan with the tribal social worker.
Based on the social workers' observations, there wasn't a recommendation to remove the children, Shapley said.
"Social workers are required to make reasonable efforts to keep the family together. Social workers offer services and if the family says 'no,' the social worker must decide if there is such a level of risk that the child should be placed out of the home," Gilbert said. "The challenge is the balancing act between supporting, maintaining and strengthening families and keeping children safe."

The goal always is to reunify families, but safely reunify the families," Walls said.
State records show that social workers, despite not finding any signs of abuse or neglect during their visit, continued to try to assist the family. About two weeks after the first visit late last year, the tribal social worker discovered that the parents weren't engaged in services as they had reported. He planned to meet with them again.
"In a situation like this one, you can't force services on people," Shapley said. "If you have a situation where there is serious neglect or abuse, it may be necessary to remove the children and the court may order the parent to partake in certain services for the child to be returned."
Records indicate that Carlson had participated in mental health counseling, medication management, drug testing and a drug and alcohol assessment. It's unclear when these services were provided. A social worker also noted that Carlson declined counseling for one of her daughters, and also said no to parenting classes or resources for domestic violence victims.
In February, the state social worker received an update from the tribal social worker that the parents still weren't engaged in services. Plans were made for social workers to visit the family again. The next note, dated May 17, says social workers were still trying.
Four days later, the social worker wrote, "attempt to locate family again with no success." Several similar notes appear in the records. The notes say that the tribal social worker planned to check with tribal housing authorities for help finding Carlson.
Social workers are expected to make diligent efforts to locate families, said Yen Lawlor, a deputy regional administrator with DSHS.
"A lot of folks we work with can be transient," Shapley said. "It's not unusual not to be able to locate a family."
Social workers generally check state databases for current addresses. That may include the rolls for those who receive state benefits. Police generally aren't asked to get involved unless social workers believe a child is in imminent danger or a victim of a crime.
"Neglect in most cases doesn't rise to the level of a crime," Gilbert said.
In September, a social worker deemed the Carlson case a "moderate high risk," but noted that the investigation couldn't be completed because the family hadn't been found.
The next month, Carlson's car was found parked in a wooded area off Marine Drive with her daughters strapped inside. It's unclear how long she had been living in the car with her children.
Tulalip is a tight-knit community. If blood lines don't connect people, kinship does, the deputy general manager Deanna Muir said.
And neighbors and extended family take responsibility for each other's children. The death of a Tulalip child impacts the entire community, said Niki Cleary, communications manager for the Tulalips.
"We all take ownership over it," she said.


Diana Hefley: 425-339-3463;

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