Teen who committed suicide had been in 22 foster homes

LYNNWOOD — A boy who jumped to his death from a Lynnwood overpass in January had been on a waiting list for a bed at a state-run psychiatric hospital. He had been in 22 different foster homes since 1998.

The boy, 14, ran away from his Lynnwood-area group home Jan. 21. Just 20 minutes later, he jumped from the Alderwood Mall Parkway overpass onto I-5 below.

His public death, which played out in front of shocked witnesses and stalled traffic on I-5 for hours, haunted many. The state’s Children’s Administration on Wednesday released an executive fatality review of the boy’s death. The administration is a division of the state Department of Social and Health Services.

The boy was a dependent of a Yakama tribal child welfare agency and had been a ward of the state since he was a toddler. The Herald is not naming him because of his age and the circumstances surrounding his death.

State law requires the Children’s Administration to conduct a fatality review every time a child dies unexpectedly while in its care or while receiving its services, spokeswoman Sherry Hill said.

The fatality reviews don’t seek to explain all the circumstances surrounding a child’s death.

“We look at ways to improve education, policy, training and then if there are any legislative changes that may be needed,” Hill said.

During the boy’s life, the Children’s Administration had worked with the welfare agency and tribal courts to provide services to him.

Tribal leaders and tribal health care workers were involved in the fatality review. So were representatives from multiple districts within the Children’s Administration where the boy had lived, Hill said.

Since June 2009, the boy had been in group homes supervised by staff. Just weeks before his death he was placed at Cypress House in the Lynnwood area awaiting room at the psychiatric hospital.

In the year leading up to his being placed in tribal care as a toddler, the boy was visited at least six times by Child Protective Services, records show. Each visit investigated allegations that the boy’s mother was abusing or neglecting her children.

Social workers for years tried to involve the boy’s parents in his care.

His mother committed suicide in 2001. A few years later, his father was sent to prison.

The boy and his siblings’ longest stay in one place was several years in a Yakama Nation foster home. The stability of the home was good for them while they dealt with their mother’s death, the review says. However, the foster father died in 2004, and the grieving foster mother asked for the children to be removed.

After that, the boy had a history of struggling to adjust to new homes. He had significant behavioral and mental health issues, the details of which are blacked out in the report.

The boy in 2009 faced legal trouble in Benton and Yakima counties, court records show. Both cases involved assaults. He was still under active court supervision at the time of his death.

Late last summer, caseworkers started trying to get him into a psychiatric hospital.

The fatality review found that case workers did not consistently convey information about the boy’s history to all involved in his care, especially regarding his behavior issues and safety planning. People at the group home in Lynnwood may not have known about the behaviors that led the state to seek a hospital placement. He was supposed to be under constant “visual and earshot” supervision at the home.

The review team concluded more supervision may have been needed. It also suggested more scrutiny for placing young people with such complex cases outside their home communities.

The review recommends that Children’s Administration workers in similar cases make sure every caregiver has a comprehensive summary of the case. That discussion should occur before the child is placed at the home. The administration also may want to develop additional training for foster parents who care for children with complex mental health and behavioral issues, the team suggested.

In the week after his death, the boy’s body was returned to his family for burial. An obituary that ran in an Eastern Washington newspaper said he was an enrolled member of the Yakama Nation. He spent at least part of his life on the Yakama Reservation and was a member of the Shaker and Longhouse religions.

Memorial services took place over several days in the Yakima area shortly after his body was sent back home.

Rikki King: 425-339-3449; rking@heraldnet.com

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