Tanya Copenhaver followed in her father’s and grandmother’s footsteps by becoming a social worker for Washington state’s Children’s Administration, a difficult but fulfilling calling she never expected to give up. During 15 years of working in the foster care system, on a job considered among the hardest in the state, she worked her way up to supervisor. But even with a master’s degree and a management position, the single mom struggled to pay rent and daycare. She and her daughter ate at her mother’s house to save money. Last year, Copenhaver finally left the vocation she cherished to take a post at a Pierce County hospital – with a 30 percent pay raise.
Months of reporting on Washington state’s foster care program by InvestigateWest has shed light on a system under strain and in disarray.
High turnover among unhappy foster parents is putting more stress on an already strained system and hindering the state’s ability to care for its most vulnerable children. Too often, the state’s program drives away its own foster parents.
Four potential fixes for Washington’s overburdened foster care system, including an unconventional suggestion by a foster youth who became a foster parent.
Washington’s shortage of foster parents to care for abused and neglected kids is so overburdened that kids who are shuffled among hotels and emergency placements often miss school, further compromising their chances to become successful adults.
Children entrusted to state care are bouncing between hotels and other emergency housing, victims of a severe shortage of foster homes.
PORTLAND —This river city along Interstate 5 has long had a reputation as a hotspot for child sex trafficking, even after a 2010 report to Congress made it clear that Seattle and other American cities are just as bad and that sex with children is a burgeoning American pastime. It’s a sad truth many communities have yet to embrace. But consider the numbers:
Police say escort ads for young women are a good barometer of the size of a trafficking market in any town — women billed as young but legal who often turn out to be minors. The Portland metro area, population 2.3 million, saw 377 total listings for escorts in a recent week on the web site Backpage. Seattle, with a metro-area population of 3.5 million, had 523 — roughly the same rate per capita.
Wandering behavior has become increasingly familiar, yet Washington is not prepared to deal with this emerging public health threat. Few police departments have policies or training to educate officers on Alzheimer’s or dementia.
Last February, Carol Smith’s report, “The Prescription Epidemic” revealed how aggressive marketing and sales of pharmaceuticals drove a culture of overprescription in Washington and created the spectacular run-up in the number of deaths from prescription overdoses.Today that story—and the documentary of the same name that we co-produced with KCTS—was recognized by Best of the West, a journalism contest for news outlets from Alaska to Texas. Here’s what the judge had to say:InvestigateWest’s Carol Smith and Stephanie Schendel and KCTS’ Ethan Morris take second for their collaboration in print and video of the prescription-drug epidemic in Washington. The investigation comes after the state’s enactment of a law that limits the doses doctors and others prescribers can give out. It is considered one of the strongest prescription drug laws in the United States.“InvestigateWest’s report on the prescription drug epidemic in Washington tackles a controversial topic – the unintended consequences of making pain medication available to those in need. Carol Smith and her colleagues revealed not just the personal cost of overdoses but also the hidden influence of drug companies on the guidelines for the use of painkillers. The research, the writing and the multimedia presentation offer readers creative, compelling and unforgettable work,” the judge wrote.Congratulations also to the staff of The Oregonian, who won top honors in the category for their reporting on the Oregon Public Employees Retirement System.
Dr. Michael Copass, medical director of Medic One(InvestigateWest/Medic One Foundation)Dr. Michael Copass, whose famously crusty persona and exacting standards in the emergency room inspired equal parts dread and admiration among generations of medical students, residents, nurses and paramedics-in-training, sat down with InvestigateWest’s Carol Smith to talk about Medic One – the emergency response system he helped pioneer, and how it is responding to the epidemic of overdose deaths in King County. Over the nearly four decades he was director of Emergency Services for Harborview Medical Center, the region’s Level 1 trauma service, Copass acquired a legendary status for his fierce devotion to patients and his high bar for those under his command. Paul Ramsey, dean of the University of Washington School of Medicine, once referred to him as a “cross between General Patton and Albert Schweitzer.” The Medic One model of emergency response, which began in the late 1960s, is now emulated around the world. Copass, who retired from Harborview in 2008, remains medical director of Medic One.Smith: I think the lay public confuses Medic One vehicles with ambulances, and we use the terms interchangeably. What kind of equipment is different on a Medic One versus a private ambulance?Copass: Private ambulances carry comfort equipment – oxygen, suction gear. A Medic One unit basically is an under-stocked ER. (It has) two defibrillators — one on active duty, one on reserve. It has individuals trained at the 2,800-hour level of education versus individuals who are trained at 120 hours.