Could abuse death of toddler on Tulalip Reservation have been prevented?

Q13 Fox News

April 2, 2013

TULALIP RESERVATION — When police found 19-month-old Chantal Craig, she was unresponsive in her mother’s SUV covered in urine and feces. She was severely malnourished and dehydrated.  And court documents show the girl had bedbugs, lice and maggots in her diaper.

Now, months after her death, child abuse attorney Julie Kays is wondering what Washington state and the Tulalip Indian Reservation could have done to prevent Craig’s death. Especially since Craig’s mother, Cristina Carlson, had a history of child abuse and neglect.

“There is a history there and past performance unfortunately indicates future performance,” Kays said. “For this mother the writing was on the wall and the Department of Social and Health Services ignored it.”

Since 1995, the state’s Department of Social and Health Service’s Children’s Administration has taken away three of Carlson’s kids. When the first call came into Child Protective Services concerning Chantal’s well-being in December 2011, it was screened as non-emergent; meaning contact needs to be made within three days instead of one day.

It wasn’t until 12 days later that the CPS worker along with a tribal social worker made a home visit and noted the child appeared to be healthy and not in danger.

chantelcraigBut friends of Craig’s family said this was far from the truth.

“She would leave her kids in the car all the time and go get high and come back hours later,” Susan Jimicum, an acquaintance, said.

Because Christina Carlson lived on tribal land, CPS had to coordinate visits with the tribal social worker. For five months there was no record of any visits.

“It appeared what happened in this case on some level is that both social workers were very busy and they had difficulty getting on each other’s schedule is really the problem,” said acting Assistant Secretary for Children’s Administration Jennifer Strus.

Last spring, the state social worker tried three times to find Carlson. They weren’t successful. So, just hours before Chantal was found dead, the social worker closed the case.

“The timing is unfortunate but I’m not sure there is anything more we could have done,” said Strus.

Attorney Julie Kays disagrees.

“What really needed to be done was the case worker needed to be out there more consistently and more regularly.  They went for months not putting eyes on this child leading up to her death and that’s a problem,”Kays said.

There were three recommendations coming out of the Child Fatality Review in this case. First, to improve the relationship between the Tulalip Tribe and DSHS to clarify the roles and responsibilities of each social worker. Second, to keep the same tribal supervisor on a child abuse case from start to finish helping any new staff who joins the investigation after it has started. Third, to hire and train more CPS social workers.

As part of Governor Inslee’s recent proposed budget, DSHS would get funding to hire an additional 42 social workers to help reduce case loads. Officials hope this will go a long way in preventing future tragedies like the death of Craig.

By Dana Rebik - Q13 FOX News Reporter