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The Overcast: Tragic Death Highlights Challenges Facing New State Agency For Youth

Rachel La Corte
AP Photo
Gov. Jay Inslee shakes hands with Ross Hunter, the new head of the Department of Children, Youth and Families shortly after Inslee signed the bill creating the new agency on July 6.

The story of how 5-year-old Gary Blanton came to be placed in his aunt's care near Spokane and his subsequent death have highlighted persistent problems in Washington's child-welfare system.

The 30-year-old woman has been charged with murder in the boy's death. One of his grandmothers is suing the state Department of Health and Social Services (DSHS).

That saga was the subject of a recent story in The Seattle Times by Nina Shapiro. Her reporting took her through hundreds of pages of documents outlining those issues, which now fall to the new state Department of Youth, Children and Families.

Shapiro sat down with her colleague, City Hall reporter Dan Beekman, to talk about that story for this week's episode of The Overcast, the Seattle Times weekly politics podcast recorded at KNKX.

Interview Highlights 

On the level of mistakes in this case...

"There were so many of them combined into one case, and the mistakes were really glaring. There were questions about whether reports had been falsified. The aunt that this little 5-year-old boy had been placed with had never been thoroughly checked out. Supervisors were basically MIA. There was a lot that went wrong on this case."

On whether Gary would have been placed with his aunt if checks had been done...

"I think probably not. Because the interesting was that when a home study finally was started, they started turning up things almost immediately. So they found some things in her background in the DSHS files that were concerning. They had interviews that were concerning. They had visits to her home that raised questions.... There were quite a few signs that were there."

On the challenges facing the new department...

Agency head Ross Hunter has said, "he's going to ask for more resources from the governor. I think the big question is whether he can get them. And also whether they can fix some of the bureaucratic problems about DSHS. There really is a feeling by workers and also by foster parents of a lack of respect, often."

To hear more about Gary's story and the challenges faced by state child-welfare workers, check out the whole episode. You can find The Overcast on iTunes, TuneIn, Stitcher and SoundCloud.

A Seattle native and former KNKX intern, Simone Alicea spent four years as a producer and reporter at KNKX. She earned her Bachelor's of Journalism from Northwestern University and covered breaking news for the Chicago Sun-Times. During her undergraduate career, she spent time in Cape Town, South Africa, covering metro news for the Cape Times.