OLYMPIA (AP) — Social workers tasked with protecting the children of Josh Powell did not consult with law enforcement or explore his potentially violent past before allowing him to host supervised visits at his home, a panel found Thursday.
Powell violently killed his kids during one such visit earlier this year. Now the state faces a lawsuit over the handling of the case.
Thursday's report, issued by a task force convened after the deaths, concluded that the Washington Department of Social and Health Services should "make concerted efforts" to check with detectives prior to making changes in parent-child contacts when there is an active investigation. Authorities have been investigating the 2009 disappearance of Powell's wife, Susan Powell, from the couple's Utah home.
Josh Powell had been locked in a custody dispute at the time of the killings, and a judge had recently ordered him to undergo an intensive psycho-sexual evaluation. The child fatality review committee also concluded that social workers should immediately reassess visitation policies when someone is ordered to undergo a psycho-sexual evaluation.
Denise Revels Robinson, assistant secretary for DSHS Children's Administration, said the recommendations provided by the committee "will be of great help in our ongoing efforts to improve our practice in keeping children safe."
"The violent death of any child, especially at the hands of a parent, is always a tragedy," Robinson said. "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."
To kill his children, Josh Powell locked his front door in the face of a social worker, then used a hatchet on his boys inside and torched the home to kill himself and the two children.
Anne Bremner, a lawyer who has represented the family of Susan Cox Powell, said a notice of claim will be filed Friday, Aug. 3 — a procedural step that allows settlement talks before a full lawsuit is filed. The claim will be filed on behalf of Susan Powell, and a guardian ad litem has been appointed to represent her interests since she is missing.
Bremner said the family wants to see changes in how the state handles these cases, such as less focus on trying to immediately reunify parents with their children. She said Thursday's findings bolster their case against the state.
Social workers were not legally required to consult with law enforcement in a situation like the Powell case, the review committee said. And the panelists did provide some praise for the people involved in the case, saying the work sometimes exceeded acceptable standards for child welfare practices and procedures.