Powell panel's ideas should guide DSHS moving forward
Smart recommendations by an independent panel looking at the state Department of Social and Health Services handling of the Josh Powell case deserve to be incorporated into DSHS guidelines and training.
Seattle Times Editorial
Perhaps Josh Powell could not have been stopped from killing himself and his two young sons in a fiery explosion last February. But an independent panel rightly pushes the state Department of Social and Health Services to learn from the tragedy.
The biggest lesson is the benefit of working more closely with law enforcement. State law does not require social workers to consult law enforcement on custody cases, but DSHS should do so anyway.
Child-welfare officials knew Powell was the prime suspect in his wife's disappearance. They took custody of his sons, Charlie, 7, and Braden, 5, after pornography owned by the boys' grandfather was discovered in the family home.
Social workers focused on Powell's fitness as a parent while police focused on connecting him to the presumed murder of his wife. Criminal and custody cases are guided by different legal thresholds and rules of evidence, but greater information sharing between police and child-welfare authorities might have made it tougher for Powell to gain access to the boys.
If social workers had consulted police, perhaps DSHS would not have agreed to shift Powell's supervised visits with his children from well-populated areas near agency offices to his home where, ultimately, he attacked the boys with a hatchet and set his house on fire.
Powell had no history of abusing or neglecting his children. But law enforcement in Utah and in Pierce County were pretty clear about their belief that he killed his wife.
The panel, made up of lawyers, a judge, a police officer, social-service providers, a psychologist and two state senators, also underscores the importance of ongoing assessments of a parent's mental state. Powell killed his children after incestuous images were found on his personal computer and a judge ordered him to undergo a psychosexual evaluation.
Custody cases often involve judicial orders that parents do not like, such as anger-management classes or substance-abuse counseling. Panelists correctly identified the need for child-welfare authorities to monitor the mental state of parents during custody cases.
There's no need for legislative fixes in the Powell case. DSHS should incorporate the panel's recommendations into its policy guidelines and training.