House Bill 1397 — also known as the “Oakley Carlson Act” — is set to have a hearing on Friday after it was filed in Washington state’s 68th legislative session.
The bill, authored by Rep. Jim Walsh (19th District), was written to increase the safety of children who have been removed from a parent due to abuse, neglect, or abandonment.
Carlson, 6, has been missing for more than a year when detectives opened her missing persons case in December 2021. Detectives believe she was last seen alive in February 2021.
“[Her] birth parents were really troubled, drug problems, legal problems, and Oakley was in a very loving, supportive, and high-quality foster home and a foster family that loved her and then raised her,” Walsh said on The Jason Rantz Show. “The parents got their act together briefly and were able to reestablish custody. So she was returned to her birth parents and then disappeared. The birth parents then relapsed and got back into legal trouble again, and the birth mother is in jail and has been for a couple of years. Oakley remains missing.”
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Prosecutors found high levels of meth in the bloodstreams of Carlson’s parents’ other children, leading to the arrest of both parents. The couple’s charges were unrelated to Carlson’s case.
The Oakley Carlson Act aims to hold the Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF) more accountable for tracking children when they’ve been reunited with their birth parents who’ve had previous or ongoing legal troubles.
The bill would expand the amount of time DCYF would have to review the birth parents’ living arrangements when they’ve regained custody. DCYF would have to perform casework supervision for a minimum of five years before conducting its final hearing and closing a case.
“Basically, check in on the child more often,” Walsh said. “And for a longer time to make sure the child is still okay. And frankly, make sure the child is still around. It would prevent a child from going missing, as Oakley has done.”
DCYF believes it is being unfairly blamed, according to Walsh, as a state agency responsible for investigating complaints against the department found it properly handled Oakley Carlson’s case last September.
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“Do you blame them for what happened to Oakley?” asked Rantz.
“No, but I think the bureaucrats could have done more,” Walsh responded. “I think it’s not their fault what has happened. They didn’t cause the disappearance of the child. But I think we could demand more of our bureaucracy and our agencies to try to prevent this from happening. They can do more and I think we should expect them to do more.”
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