WA officials, lawmakers blame Democrat-passed legislation for spike in child deaths

"...this result was very foreseeable and also very preventable.”

Ari Hoffman Seattle WA
Washington lawmakers and officials are blaming Democratic-passed legislation for the death of a baby and are demanding changes to protect children.

A new law called the “Keeping Families Together Act” went into effect in July and allows the drug-addicted and homeless to maintain custody of children because, according to state Democrats, circumstances such as substance abuse or inadequate housing don’t constitute imminent physical harm to a child.

James Kennedy, the Jefferson County Prosecuting Attorney and Coroner, told King 5 that the law needs to be changed after a three-week-old baby was found dead in the bushes near a lagoon in Port Townsend with blood dripping from its nose and strapped to a car seat.

“…anger and frustration stems from the fact that from our standpoint, this result was very foreseeable and also very preventable,” Kennedy said.

Court documents charging the father of the infant, Jordan Sorensen, show that the baby was born with fentanyl in his system and that the mother also tested positive for fentanyl.

The Washington State Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF) gave temporary custody to Sorenson who, despite a lengthy criminal history dating back to when he was a minor, including 28 warrants for failure to appear or comply, four felony convictions as an adult, and two felony convictions as a minor, eight gross misdemeanor convictions and two pending misdemeanors, passed initial drug tests to care for the baby but then began not complying with drug testing.

A few days later, he disappeared with the baby.

According to court documents, the baby’s mother told DCYF that Sorensen had used black market-purchased urine to pass his drug test.

Sorenson was eventually located without the child but led police to the spot where he put the baby’s body. He claimed he fell asleep with the baby on his lap and woke up to find the baby dead between his body and the chair he was sitting in.

He is now facing charges of kidnapping, disposing of a body, and concealing a body.

Kennedy told KING 5, “I don't want to see this happen again. This was a foreseeable result. I don't understand how the legislature did not contemplate this happening when they passed this law. It's preventable. And I don't want to see another child die in circumstances like this.”

Republican State Representative Travis Couture introduced a bill this session to try to reverse parts of the law by requiring the immediate removal of children from caretakers using illegal substances, including fentanyl, by classifying the presence of those drugs as "imminent harm."

It would also create additional training and fentanyl-specific risk assessment tools for caseworkers investigating abuse as well as provide caseworkers with fentanyl test strips to confirm the presence of fentanyl in the home.

According to a report from the Washington State Office of the Family and Children’s Ombuds, there were 85 deaths of children who were under the supervision of the state in 2022, 22 of the deaths were due to accidental drug ingestion or overdose, 67 percent of which were due to fentanyl.

Couture told The Ari Hoffman Show on Talk Radio 570 KVI, “We have an unprecedented amount of child deaths in our state because DCYF cannot remove at-risk kids a lot of the times, babies and toddlers from homes where there is fentanyl present or other hard drugs, or where parents are abusing fentanyl.”

“We've seen over the last couple of years a dramatic increase of needless child deaths and I have been going to war about this over the last year… It's something we have to absolutely hit a bullseye on because if we gavel out this session and we don't do something strong enough about it, we can bet our bottom dollar that we are going to have, you know, another hundred child deaths in our state that were totally needless.”

He continued, “What's sad, Ari, is that to a lot of people around here, those kids are just a government statistic and we keep pushing this radical ideology that drugs are okay and that we're not prioritizing the safety of the kids and not removing them from those drug-filled homes.”

However, Democrats rejected Couture’s legislation in favor of their own watered-down version, HB 2447.

Couture explained, “My bill would've said it is an imminent harm if you have substance abuse in the home or, or illegal substances that weren't prescribed in the home and that is an imminent harm to remove kids.”

“What their bill says is that fentanyl, only fentanyl, not meth, not black tar heroin, not cocaine, not other things, just fentanyl and things like fentanyl, like tranq, which is even more powerful than fentanyl, those are the only targets on the list… so they weakened it by taking away things like meth.”

He added, “About a year ago a mother in Tacoma murdered her three-year-old son, taser burns on his body, blunt force trauma to the head, blood splattered on the walls and his corpse was laid next to his one-year-old brother.”

“That was all under CPS supervision and that was with meth. And so, I think although fentanyl is the biggest problem, there are other problems too.”

Couture said he was “fighting very hard” to use 2447 “as a vehicle to try to strengthen” protections for children.

“I've tried so many amendments, it'll boggle the mind, to try to strengthen it so that so it'll actually protect kids instead of just pandering to voters who think that this looks like it'll protect kids, but there's actually no teeth in the bill.”

“I think there's a radical ideology in the Democrats… some of the majority party that views this as an equity issue. We don't wanna take kids away from BIPOC communities or whatever else because they're more disproportionately taken away.”

“They also say that removing kids from biological parents is traumatic. But what I say back is that being removed from your parents is less traumatic than being dead.”
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