Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn, has requested that Department of Social and Human Services release a letter submitted to them by West Valley City, Utah, police which reportedly forwarned DSHS about Josh Powell and his treatment of his sons, Charlie, 7, and Braden, 5.
"DSHS needs to come clean with what they knew. Having information pertinent to the welfare of the Powell children, and not acting on it, may have actually contributed to their deaths," Roach said.
"West Valley police department did send to the court some information and some documents," DSHS spokesman Thomas Shapely said. "The court in Utah put very strict limitations on disclosure of what's in there. I think that's because it may have been material to their investigation of Mr. Powell's wife's disappearance. I'm sure that they didn’t want to give very much away about that and I understand that."
"What my understanding is, is that there were depictions and illustrations of what somebody said was of a disturbing nature. I have not yet seen them because I am not named in the court order that says who can see them," he said. "Let me make very clear there was nothing transmitted to us from West Valley Police Department that indicated any risk or threat to the children’s safety."
Shapely said that Powell's Feb. 1 custody hearing was open to the public and that Roach could have attended the hearing. The informaton from West Valley City police was introduced in court and the psychologist appointed to work with the young boys reviewed the documents. Shapely said he has not seen the documents.
"He recommended at that point that there be a psycho-sexual evaluation done of Mr. Powell," he said. "The court agreed with that and ordered for that to take place and the court ordered that the children would not be returned to Mr. Powell."
"I shouldn’t speculate, but my speculation is that without that information that came from West Valley police department, the court might well have returned the children to Mr. Powell that day," he added.
Shapely said that the court could have ordered to change Powell's visitation with the boys, but the court did not order any change.
"The court ordered two supervised visits a week and that’s what we need to do," Shapely said. "Under state law, we have to go under the anticipation of reunification of children with their parents in a case like this, unless the court steps in and terminates parental rights."
"As you can imagine, one of the steps in [reunification] is to make sure that the bond and the connection and the relationship between the parents and the child continues and part of that is visits," he said. "Keep in mind we have children in our custody whose parents have been specifically alleged to have sexually or physically abused or neglected them. Nonetheless, we’re under court order to have visitation."
"In Mr. Powell's case, visitation was at the highest level -- strictest level I might say -- which was supervised visits."
"The visitation schedule and location was agreed to by all parties at court, including the guardian ad litem, who is appointed by the court to represent the children's legal viewpoint," Shapely said.
The Coxes were not a party in the case, but Shapely said that it's his understanding, based on a brief he received from his staff, that the Coxes were involved in the visitation decision and that there were not any objections to the decision, including the psychologist involved in the case.
Whether or not anything could have been done differently, Shapely said that the agency will look at that when they go through the mandatory Child Fatality Review. DSHS is required to conduct that examination of the situation within six months; Shapely thinks the review will happen sooner.
The review involves a panel of people, in this case it's likely they will be drawn from law enforcement, the judicial system and a children and families ombudsman -- a watchdog appointed by the governor. No one who is connected directly with the Powell case will be on the panel, Shapely said.
The panel will review all the case notes and determine if changes in practice, policy or training for staff should be implemented. The results will be published on the DSHS website.
"I hope everyone understands just how difficult this has been for the case worker, who was there that day, doing her job, helping the children remain in contact with their birth parent and had to go through this terrible thing," Shapely said. "She probably came very close to losing her life as well."
"Everybody here, at least in Children's Administration who were so closely connected to this case, worked with these children for months and months. They got to love these kids -- they were a cute pair of 5-year-old and 7-year-old [boys] -- they were probably 4 and 6 when we first saw them, and this has just been devastating for everybody here."
"Anytime something bad happens to a child that we’ve had contact with we take it to heart, we feel it, we take it home with us, and it’s a very difficult time for all of us."
Shapely said DSHS staff has been able to meet with counselors about the incident.
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