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Originally published February 5, 2012 at 8:41 PM | Page modified February 5, 2012 at 8:51 PM

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State to examine terms of Josh Powell's visitation

The state Department of Social and Health Services plans to conduct a child-fatality review into Sunday's fire that claimed the lives of Braden and Charles Powell and their father, Josh Powell.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Every Sunday afternoon, Charlie and Braden Powell trotted up to their father's Graham-area house accompanied by a state-provided escort for a four-hour visit.

While Josh Powell spent time with his sons, the contract worker hired to provide transportation and monitor the visits kept a close eye on them, according to an official with the state's Children's Administration. The Sunday visits were one of two Powell had with 5-year-old Braden and 7-year-old Charlie each week.

Powell had lost temporary custody of the children in September after the arrest of his father on voyeurism and child-pornography charges. A Pierce County judge ordered the children to temporarily live with Susan Powell's parents, Chuck and Judy Cox, but allowed Josh Powell supervised visitation.

The terms of the visitation are expected to be closely examined after police say Josh Powell killed his sons and himself Sunday in a fire during a visitation.

Sherry Hill, spokeswoman for Child Protective Services, said the worker who was with the children was not a CPS employee, but a contract worker with a private agency that supervises visits for the state. She described the worker as "emotionally traumatized."

Asked why Josh Powell was allowed visitation despite being a person of interest in Susan Powell's disappearance, Hill told The Associated Press there had been no indication that the children were in any danger.

Powell had custody of the boys for nearly two years after his wife's disappearance, and it was only because his father — with whom he and the boys lived — was arrested that they were taken out of the home.

"If someone were expressing suicidal thoughts there would have been protocols in place," Hill said. "If there were concerns about the children being harmed we would have taken some action. We wouldn't have taken the children over there."

Susan Powell's parents aren't critical of how the custody case was handled, their attorney, Steve Downing, told The Associated Press. "They knew that legally he would probably have supervised visitation," he said. "It was their belief he had something to do with Susan's disappearance, and that ultimately he could harm the children. But they believed the state had listened to them and had taken appropriate measures."

The Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) plans to conduct what it terms a child-fatality review. "We really look at the service delivery with the case. Was there anything we can learn about what happened? It's not necessary to see what went wrong, but how were services delivered. Is there something we can learn?" said Sharon Gilbert, deputy director for field operations at Children's Administration, which is part of DSHS.

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