OLYMPIA, Wash. - A renowned child welfare expert has been hired by the Department of Social and Health Services to look into the case of a 4-year-old special needs foster child from Snohomish County nicknamed "Poca."
Over the last two months the KING 5 Investigators have exposed many missteps in the handling of the child's case by state social workers, the court system, and the child's court advocate which led to Poca being removed from the foster family who raised her since infancy.
After KING 5 asked Governor Chris Gregoire questions about Poca's case, she directed DSHS to launch an investigation.
"I want to personally be confident that a thorough and unbiased investigation of the entire child welfare system as it relates to this child has been done so that ultimately this decision is made for what's right, what's in the best interest of this child," said the governor. "Permanency and a great home is what I want to see happen for that child."
Last week DSHS hired Dr. Benjamin de Haan for a fee of $35,000 to conduct the investigation. de Haan is a consultant with a Ph.D. in social work and social research. He's held many leadership positions in the social services field including heading up all of Oregon's child welfare services.
Poca was born a critically ill preemie, who weighed just two pounds, four ounces. Medical records show she nearly died on two separate occasions in the hospital. After a 3 month stay in intensive care she entered foster care, eventually being placed with Dick and Amy Langley. The Langleys have extensive experience caring for special needs children. The state has placed more than 20 foster children in their care over the last 10 years.
Soon after being placed with the Langleys, the foster family made waves about how the child's case was being handled by DSHS social workers and Poca's court appointed advocate. Three-and-a-half years later the state asked a judge to remove Poca from the Langleys and she agreed. For the last month, Poca has lived with family friends of the birthparents, whom she'd only met a few times.
On Friday, DSHS is expected to ask Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Anita Farris to sign-off on a change in case plan for Poca. Instead of the goal being to reunite her with her birthparents, the state is seeking to terminate their parental rights to the child, which would allow Poca to be adopted. Federal and state laws mandate that foster children should be headed toward a permanent home after 15 months of being taken away from their parents. Poca just turned four, and she is still in limbo.
It's unclear if Judge Farris would approve of the new plan. Last week in court she said the birthmother had been clean and sober since Poca went into foster care and that she had a positive psychological evaluation regarding her ability to parent.
The state is paying for the Langleys to go through an adoption home study to see if they are a suitable, permanent placement for Poca.
The results of the investigation by Dr. de Haan are expected to be on the governor's desk by the end of June.