Report: Sealed docs could have prevented Powell boys’ deaths

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The Washingon Department of Social and Health Services have released a report regarding the deaths of Charlie and Braden Powell, the sons of Josh and Susan Cox Powell. Josh Powell killed himself and his two boys on February 5. Josh Powell was the sole person of interest in the December 2009 disappearance of Susan Cox Powell. The full report is available at http://www.dshs.wa.gov/pdf/ca/ecfr-powell.pdf

Child Fatality Review: Despite solid work by all involved, nobody could anticipate that Joshua Powell would murder his sons

 OLYMPIA – Although the Department of Social and Health Services workers often exceeded accepted standards for child welfare practice and procedures, a Child Fatality Review committee concluded that nobody could have anticipated that Joshua Powell would murder his two sons. According to the committee, the work of all agencies and individuals involved demonstrated the highest concern for the children’s health, safety and welfare.

Joshua Powell and his children died Feb. 5 in a Graham home fire that he arranged to occur during an in-home visit with his two sons. Charlie, age 7, and Braden, age 5, were in foster care with relatives while a court decided whether to return the children to Powell’s custody.

The Children’s Administration convened the Child Fatality Review committee to honor the children who died and to see what lessons might be learned to help prevent such tragedies. Serving on the committee were experienced professionals from various disciplines. None had personal involvement in the Powell case.

State law requires the Department to conduct a fatality review when a child death or near-death injury is suspected to be caused by abuse or neglect and the child has received services from Children’s Administration in the previous 12 months.

The Child Fatality Review committee met for 24 hours over three days in April and June. The committee members interviewed seven people who had worked on this case and reviewed more than 2,700 pages of documents.

“The state owes a debt of gratitude to the respected professionals who gave so generously of their time, skills and expertise to serve on this committee,” said DSHS Children’s Administration Assistant Secretary Denise Revels Robinson. “The violent death of any child, especially at the hands of a parent, is always a tragedy. But few of us who have served in child welfare have had to deal with such a horrific experience as the loss of Charlie and Braden. The thorough, thoughtful examination and recommendations provided by the committee members will be of great help in our ongoing efforts to improve our practice in keeping children safe.”

The committee agreed that all the professionals who were involved in this case, social workers, law enforcement detectives, visitation supervisor, guardian ad litem and assistant attorney general, demonstrated ongoing concern and professional behavior in this complex situation. The committee recommended increased consultation between child welfare workers and law enforcement when parents are targets of active criminal investigations, ongoing training and regular consultation on domestic violence for child welfare workers.

Revels Robinson emphasized how important transparency was in the review process. “We are also particularly grateful to the committee for acknowledging the professionalism, caring and outstanding work of our staff under the most challenging of circumstances,” she said.

According to the Committee’s final report, knowing that Powell was a “person of interest” in the disappearance of his wife, Susan, the boys’ mother, the Department could have evaluated him differently for domestic violence and not allowed in-home visits with the boys. Other information that could have aided DSHS and law enforcement in decision making was sealed in Utah records as law enforcement officers in that state continued to investigate the disappearance of Powell’s wife, who remains missing.

The committee noted the importance of law enforcement and the Department working jointly to share decisions concerning visitation and evaluation of an evolving child dependency situation.

The West Valley City Police Dept. released a statement on Thursday, saying:

"From the onset of the investigation into the disappearance of Susan Cox Powell, an emphasis was placed on the children’s health, safety and welfare. At no time did the West Valley City Police Department receive any indication that Josh Powell would murder his two sons. Josh is solely responsible for his horrific actions back in February of this year and individually responsible for the murders of Charlie and Braden.

"Although the dependency proceedings were primarily a matter for the State of Washington, the West Valley City Police Department communicated regularly with authorities in the State of Washington regarding the welfare of Charlie and Braden. Information determined to be pertinent to the boy’s health, safety and welfare was released by this department when it was appropriate. This release of pertinent information included a petition to the court for release of specific evidence related to the children’s welfare."

[Read the WVC PD Response to Document Released from DSHS (PDF)]

Serving on the Powell Child Fatality Review Committee were:  Richard Anderson, Deputy Prosecutor, King County; Brett Ballew, Managing Attorney, Office of Public Defense; Sen. Randi Becker, R-Eatonville; Jim Doerty, Judge, King County Superior Court; Jake Fawcett, Fatality Review Coordinator, Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence; Brad Graham, Detective, Tacoma Police Department, Criminal Investigations Division; Natalie Green, Region 2 Deputy Regional Administrator, Children’s Administration; Barbara James, Executive Director, Washington State Court Appointed Special Advocate; Sen. Jim Kastama, D-Puyallup; Kevin Krueger, Chief Risk Officer, Department of Social and Health Services; Mary Meinig, Director, Office of Family and Children’s Ombudsman and Dr. Richard Packard, Licensed Psychologist and Certified Sex Offender Treatment Provider.

To view the committee’s final report online, go to http://www.dshs.wa.gov/pdf/ca/ecfr-powell.pdf