Investigators: State waited too long in Poca case

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by By SUSANNAH FRAME / KING 5 News

Bio | Email | Follow: @SFrameK5

KING5.com

Posted on November 13, 2009 at 1:08 PM

Video: New head of DSHS says Poca case is top priority

SEATTLE - Washington has a new head of the largest agency in the state and Tuesday she met with KING 5.

The new secretary of the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) says priority number one is resolving the case of "Poca," a 4-year-old foster child who, the KING 5 Investigators have found, has been failed by the system.

It was day two on the job for Susan Dreyfus, the new leader of DSHS, appointed by the governor.

Dreyfus learned about Poca and the series of KING 5 reports about her while driving from Wisconsin to her new job in Olympia.

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Governor Gregoire called her on her cell phone.

"The governor clearly puts great priority on the permanency of Poca and called me en route to Washington to let me know it was something she wanted me to begin immediately to take a look at," said Dreyfus.

Poca's birth parents have a history with drugs and the law. The state has tried for nearly four years to help them get ready to parent their special-needs child, but all efforts have fallen apart.

So, up until two weeks ago, Poca had lived her entire life with foster parents Dick and Amy Langley of Snohomish County.

We watched as Poca hid behind a chair and refused to come out on the day social workers took her from the only place she's ever called home.

Tuesday the Langleys got to see Poca for the second time since she was removed. In front of social workers she broke down when it was time to go.

"She said, "I just want to go home,' and just cried and cried and cried to the point where she started to gag and almost vomit and kept hugging on us saying, 'Take me home,'" said Amy.

The KING 5 Investigators have found removing Poca was unjustified and based on unfair accusations.

Child Protective Services (CPS) accused the Langleys of neglecting one of their other children.

An appeals judge ruled that wasn't true. Judge Laura Valente ruled "the Langleys were loving, gentle, diligent and concerned parents to all the children in their household."

Then the Langelys were accused of trying to keep Poca from reunifying with her biological parents. Judge Anita Farris of Snohomish County Superior Court said they were interfering by reporting suspicious marks - like a welt on Poca's back - after visits with her birth parents.

Tuesday top DSHS officials met with KING 5 to explain their next moves. They're finally giving up on the birth parents saying Poca should be adopted.

"At some point it was just time to make the call, and in this situation it simply waited too long for that to happen, but we're going to change that now," said Dreyfus.

But that doesn't mean Poca's headed back to the Langleys. The state is recommending she stay put in her new foster home until a court sorts out where she should live permanently.

"Wouldn't it be reasonable that the next best situation is that she be in the home where she has been raised her entire life? I don't understand why they're not moving to put her back in our home," said Amy. "Why traumatize her any longer? A month, 2 months, 3 months? How long is it going to be? At what point is that in the child's best interest?"

Poca is currently living with family friends of her birth parents whom she recently met. Today Secretary Dreyfus told KING 5 she's "acclimating well to her placement" and that Dreyfus would personally keep tabs on her well-being as the case moves its way through the court system.

Secretary Dreyfus is a Wisconsin executive with more than a dozen years of leadership experience in both the private and public health sectors. She replaces Robin Arnold-Williams, who has joined the Governor's Office as director of Gregoire's executive policy office.

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