GRAYS HARBOR COUNTY, Wash. — Following the case of Oakley Carlson, advocates are pushing for new laws to protect foster children.
Feb. 10, 2021, was the last time anyone saw the 5-year-old alive.
Deputies arrested her parents in December 2021. They've been charged with endangering another one of their children. Investigators searched the family's property for seven days looking for Oakley but found nothing.
"She was fun, she had a great personality,” said Stephanie Smith.
Smith runs Learning to Grow Childcare in Elma, Washington, and was the daycare provider for Oakley while she was in the care of a foster family.
"She was also a kid that was just super well-adjusted while she was in our care, you know, played and was rambunctious and did, you know, just all the things that you would expect of a typical, healthy, thriving child,” said Smith.
The state returned Oakley to the care of her parents, Andrew Carlson and Jordan Bowers, before she went missing.
"How does a child go unaccounted for, for an entire year?" Smith said.
Smith and friend Jordan Wolfe started a petition online calling for the passing of Oakley’s Law.
The petition, which now has more than 5,000 signatures, wants a law passed that would create a five-point system of support to check in on children who are returning to families after exiting the foster care system and to mandate long-term drug testing for families who are reunified with their child.
"This little girl was not failed by a single entity, because no child should be supported by a single entity. And so I really feel passionately that this is not about pointing a finger at any one entity that this is a collection of failures that we can do better by,” said Smith.
Smith is hopeful this is a step toward change that could save lives.
"I really would like us as a society to think much broader about how are we ensuring that our most vulnerable children, population, they really are being kept safe," she said.
Smith has been in contact with lawmakers including Rep. Tana Senn who chairs the Children, Youth and Families Committee.
“The disappearance of little Oakley is tragic. The way the Grays Harbor community has come together is exactly the right response, and so is their call for more supports and connections for kids and families," Senn wrote to KING 5. "Too often, a tragedy opens our eyes to a new way of looking at an issue. I’m committed to working with my colleague Rep. Mike Chapman to see how we can make a difference so young kids like Oakley grow up safe and thriving."
Rep. Mike Chapman of the 24th legislative district, Oakley's district, gave the following statement to KING 5:
“I met with Rep. Tana Senn and staff from DCYF today to discuss policy and budget options. We should have a better scope of solutions when we meet in January.”