Published: Monday, August 24, 2009
Lynnwood, WA Herald Net
Another DSHS horror story
The heartbreaking case of Shayne Abegg continues to reveal the worst in people, and the system.
Abegg, now 6, was starved by his father and girlfriend in 2007. He weighed 25 pounds — about half the weight of a healthy child his age. The father, Danny Abegg, and Marilea Mitchell were both sentenced to 8 1/2 years in prison.
A civil suit filed on behalf of the Everett boy resulted in a settlement of $6 million, the largest amount the state Department of Social and Health Services ever agreed to pay for harm to a single child victim. A DSHS review of the case concluded that the state missed a pattern of abuse and neglect, didn’t follow policy to make sure the boy was safe and failed to hold his father, his girlfriend and the boy’s mother more accountable for Shayne’s well-being.
Now, as Herald writer Diana Hefley reported this month, that report has been heavily censored — in theory to protect Shayne’s privacy over medical issues, but in practice to also hide harsh criticisms of how the case was handled.
Some social workers involved in the case resigned, and a contract caseworker and his employer were responsible for $1 million of the settlement. Of course, as part of the deal, the state and contract worker did not admit wrongdoing.
The agency did make changes based on the findings, including taking steps to make sure more experienced supervisors oversee these types of cases and social workers get training to recognize the signs of malnutrition.
Social workers who can’t recognize a starving child?
Others noticed, and starting in 2003, social workers investigated at least a dozen complaints of abuse and neglect involving Shayne and his brother, including reports from outside the family that the boys appeared to be malnourished.
The state closed Shayne’s case file in February 2007. The boy was hospitalized a month later in critical condition.
Assistant Attorney General Pamela Anderson told Hefley that the report was redacted because of concerns the information could be used to stigmatize the boy in the future, Also gone, however, are parts that discuss how caseworkers failed to recognize clear signs of ongoing neglect.
Attorneys didn’t remove photos of Shayne from the report, which were taken by detectives to document the state of the boy’s health when he was found. That oversight doesn’t help the state’s argument that it was concerned only about the boy’s privacy, but Anderson told Hefley she would look into the matter.
Will Shayne Abegg’s horror story finally move us from merely acknowledging the deficiencies of our Department of Social and Health Services to actually changing it?