Investigators: Poca case auditor finds cracks in system
11:16 PM PDT on Thursday, July 9, 2009
By SUSANNAH FRAME / KING 5 News
An independent reviewer looking into the case of the 4-year-old foster child nicknamed Poca has identified potential problems throughout the child welfare system that led to the child being in limbo her entire life.
Governor Gregoire ordered the review, led by Dr. Benjamin de Haan, one day after the KING 5 Investigators asked her several tough questions about the case in May.
Poca has spent her entire life in foster care; all but a few months of it with foster parents in Snohomish County. She was abruptly and controversially taken away from them two months ago.
In the 10-page preliminary report, Dr. de Haan writes, “Poca should have had a permanent home a long time ago.”
Susan Dreyfus, the new Secretary of the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS), appointed by the governor, met with KING 5 to discuss the report.
“I was pleased that in such a short time frame they were able to look at the case, figure out what they thought were the big issues that we’re going to need to address at a systems level, and again, we’re going to learn from this case and keep improving the system as we go,” she said.
The report identifies some of the problems that led to Poca without a permanent home her entire life.
Dr. de Haan further says social worker turnover was a factor – there have been 10 on the case.
He cites a lack of competent, goal-oriented case supervision at DSHS – even for a brief time – played a role.
He also found a lack of sustained, clear direction in the case plan for Poca.
Over the years, the child’s plan bounced all over the place.
Poca was born weighing just over 2 pounds. She was critically ill and remained in intensive care for 3 months.
After that she lived with her biological parents for a few weeks.
CPS removed her, and placed her in foster care after her father tested positive for meth. The mother had a prior baby die after testing positive for meth at birth.
Shortly after, the state placed Poca with new foster parents, Dick and Amy Langley, who agreed to be an adoptive option for the baby.
The Langleys raised her for 3-and-a-half years until CPS found them guilty of neglecting one of their other children.
Poca was moved to another foster home because of that.
A judge ordered her back to the Langleys after a day.
Then the state tried to move her to an aunt’s home. That transition failed when the state realized she lived with a convicted criminal.
Afterward the plan was to transition her back to her birthparents. That fell apart when the parents had another child removed from CPS after it was discovered they had violated their safety plan for the boy.
The Langleys were cleared by an appeals judge of the neglect finding, which led them to believe Poca could remain in a stable home.
But she was removed anyway. State social workers and the child’s court appointed advocate told a judge the Langleys were trouble makers and meddlers who were getting in the way of reunifying Poca with her biological family.
Two months ago, she was placed in yet another home: family friends of the birthparents.
“From my standpoint, are there things we can learn from this case? Yes. Will we? Yes. But right now I just want permanency for this little girl,” said Secretary Dreyfus.
The review also says Poca was let down by the Attorney General’s Office. Three times over the years DSHS asked the AG’s office to file papers to legally terminate the parent’s rights so Poca could be adopted.All three times, they wouldn’t do it.
“I’m disappointed in the (legal) representation in this case,” said Dreyfus. “I’m also disappointed in terms of the representation in terms of not filing three different times, when it was sought. But I don’t want to blame the Attorney General’s Office for this because there’s plenty of blame to go around on this case, starting with us.”
Secretary Dreyfus tells us she checks on Poca’s well being every week and that the child is doing well in the new placement.
The AG’s office has finally filed the paperwork to terminate parental rights.
A more in-depth report on Poca’s case from Dr. de Haan and an Independent Review Committee, is due to the governor next month.
As for her former foster parents, the Langleys, they want to adopt Poca if she becomes legally free from her birthparents.
Despite court filings by the Assistant Attorney General on the case, recommending Poca never be placed back with them, Secretary Dreyfus tells us the Langleys are definitely being considered as an adoption resource. She was unaware of the court filing but assured us she would look into it.