The life and death of a teenager in state care

Jul 21, 2011, 5:39 PM | Updated: Jul 22, 2011, 8:14 pm

A new report from the Department of Social and Health Services summarizes a teenager’s life and death in eight pages. After bouncing him through 22 foster homes, it concludes that caseworkers and foster parents should have had more information about the boy’s history so they could have helped him.

Roger Eugene Benson was in state care when he left a group home in January, walked to a freeway overpass, jumped to I-5 below and died after being struck by a van. People who witnessed the suicide were horrified. People who didn’t know what was going were angry by the traffic delays caused when the Interstate was shut down during the afternoon commute.

In calling the State Patrol that day, I found out the victim was 15 years old. That struck me because I have a 15-year-old daughter. This kid, the boy who killed himself on I-5 , was somebody’s son.

What went wrong in his life?

Benson was born in December of 1995. His history with the state began when he was a toddler. His mother was investigated for abuse or neglect of her children, including Benson, six times. The last time CPS was called, in May of 1998, Benson was placed in protective custody. The boy and his siblings were placed in four foster homes within three years. The longest he was in any one home was two years.

The Yakama Tribal Court tried to get services for the family, but the state says Benson’s parents “failed to consistently access identified services” that might have helped them.

In 2001, Benson’s mother committed suicide. A few years later his father was sent to prison. After that he was placed in a Yakama Nation foster home for over three years. That stable environment changed in September of 2004 when his foster father died. At that point, the foster mom asked that Benson and his siblings be placed somewhere else. Where would Benson go?

Between September of 2004 and June of 2009 he had 13 different places to stay. The state report says he “struggled significantly in new homes.” The solution seemed to be sending him to live at Northwest Idaho Children’s Home, with the hope that he’d get close supervision and help dealing with a young lifetime of behavioral problems.

He was involved with at least two assaults, and in November of 2010 he was sent to the Nez Perce Juvenile Detention facility. The state admits this was a “complex” case and Benson needed more help. While on waiting list to receive help at a psychiatric hospital, he was sent to a temporary care facility in Lynnwood, the Cyprus House, which is an unlocked, staffed facility. When Benson was sent to there, he was told he would be going to a mental hospital at some point.

He had a different plan.

On January 21, 2011 he left the group home at 1:45 p.m. and law enforcement was immediately notified. Fifteen minutes later he was on an I-5 overpass. A witness, who was also walking on the overpass, told investigators it looked like the 15 year old kneeled down momentarily. At 2:06 in the afternoon he jumped to his death.

This boy didn’t have a chance.

Benson was in state care most of his life. What could the state have done differently? Eleven people reviewed the case and concluded that caseworkers didn’t consistently convey information about the boy’s history to all of those involved with his care over the years. It recommends more training for care providers who deal with youth who have behavioral issues. It also suggests more supervision when young people are placed in facilities outside their home communities.

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The life and death of a teenager in state care