Hours before a little girl died, Washington State Department of Social and Health Services workers closed the case.
Social workers knew Chantel Craig was suffering from malnutrition and neglect. They also knew the girl’s mother, Christina Carlson, had a history of neglect – four other children were removed from her care in the past.
DSHS Children’s Administration had their first report of trouble when Chantel wasn’t even born, according to a just completed “fatality review” obtained through a public records request.
The state received a report that Chantel’s mother was abusing pain medication while pregnant. No action was taken then “because the alleged victim was an unborn child.”
CPS received a report that Chantel was neglected when she was 9 months old. The allegations included a “lack of supervision, inadequate nutrition, and untreated medical needs.”
They say in the report there wasn’t much they could do because they have no authority under state and federal law to investigate allegations on tribal land.
A tribal social worker did agree to meet with the state and then tried to locate the family.
In December of 2011, a Children’s Administration social worker was able to visit a home where Christina Carlson was staying with her children. As you might expect, when there was a scheduled visit everything was fine.
The report stated Chantel “was clean, dressed appropriately, appeared well-nourished and had no signs of injury or bruising.” There were no safety hazards in the home and “an ample supply of food in the home.”
That’s the last time the state had any contact with the family.
For the next several months, state and tribal social workers were unable to locate the family. May, June, July and August rolled by last year with no awareness of where the mother and her children were.
On September 19, 2012 the social worker and supervisor involved with the case decided to close the investigation “because the family still could not be located, and the investigation had extended far beyond the standard investigative time frame.”
The supervisor signed off on closing the case October 8, 2012 at 3:30 p.m. and by 5:00 p.m. Chantel was found unresponsive in a car the family was living in on the Tulalip Indian Reservation.
The Snohomish County Medical Examiner later determined Chantel died from “parental neglect.”
At the time of her death, Chantel was severely malnourished. Her body was covered with feces, urine, lice, bedbugs and a bleeding rash.
Her mother has been charged with second-degree murder and two counts of criminal maltreatment.
What is the state’s role, if any, in Chantel’s death?
A six-person committee, with assistance from two legal consultants and two specialists who served as facilitators, reviewed facts of the case.
The committee noted this investigation remained open beyond the time frames required by their policy “to attempt to engage the parents in voluntary services.” A case like this would normally be closed within 90 days; this one was open for about ten months.
They came up with three recommendations:
1. The current memorandum of understanding between the Tulalip Tribes and DSHS should be revised so everyone knows their “roles and responsibility.”
2. “The hiring and retention of Child Protective Services social workers and supervisors should be a top priority of Children’s Administration.”
3. When there’s a change with personnel on a case, the files should be reviewed by both the outgoing and incoming supervisor to make sure complex cases don’t get overlooked.
RIP little Chantel.
By LINDA THOMAS