ELMA, Wash. - The Grays Harbor County Sheriff's Office confirmed that the last time anyone saw 5-year-old Oakley Carlson alive was in February. Now, community members are taking action to fight what they say are system failures that allowed Oakley to remain missing for nearly a year without raising any alarms.
Two women in Grays Harbor County started a petition to push for changes in the state’s child welfare system.
"I can’t fathom this being the end of one of our children’s lives," Stephanie Smith said.
For Smith, Oakley’s story is personal. She operates Learning to Grow Child Care in Elma where the little girl was cared for during her time with her foster parents.
"I keep thinking ‘was there something we could have done?’" Smith asked.
Smith did file a letter with the courts supporting Oakley’s foster parents and pleading against her biological parents, Jordan Bowers and Andrew Carlson, from getting custody.
"We knew the family history. We were not convinced. We sadly wrote in the letter that it would be catastrophic to make the move back to the bio family," Smith said.
In late 2019, the courts reunited Oakley with her biological parents and since then, the foster parents and others in the community have raised the red flag multiple times to the Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF).
"Somewhere, there was a failure," Smith said.
Smith said they want to pass Oakley’s Law. Their goal is to push for a more in-depth monitoring system after a child is reunited with their biological parents. They are also asking for more independent entities outside of social workers to oversee these cases.
"I would agree. I think there is a value on having that independent entity able to follow up to citizen complaints," said Patrick Dowd with the Washington State Office of the Family and Children’s Ombuds.
The agency was created by the state in the 1990s to provide independent oversight, but he said it’s always good to have more agencies like his.
Right now, anyone can reach out to them for various reasons-- including if someone is concerned with how DCYF is handling a child welfare case.
Rep. Tana Senn told FOX 13 on Tuesday that she has heard about the child’s case and also the petition.
"We want to look at all that we can because it’s heartbreaking, and the community is hurting and they are coming together and that is what’s so important. They are looking for solutions, so I hope they will work with us. We can work together to see if there is indeed something we can do," Senn said.
Senn said when it comes to child welfare laws, it's complicated with a lot of gray areas, but she is willing to have the conversation in light of Oakley’s case.
FOX 13 has reached out to DCYF about Oakley’s case, but they say they cannot comment because of privacy laws.
Oakley's biological parents are in custody for an unrelated incident involving another one of their children. They have not been officially charged in Oakley's disappearance.
On Monday, the Grays Harbor County Sheriff's Office called off a week-long search for Oakley.
Last week, Undersheriff Brad Johansson said that the likelihood of Oakley being alive is "not very good at this point."
MORE COVERAGE ON OAKLEY CARLSON:
- Missing 5-year-old's sister says Oakley Carlson 'is no more,' was told by mother not to speak of her
- Where is Oakley Carlson? Search amps up for missing 5-year-old as parents remain uncooperative
- Did the system fail Oakley Carlson? 5-year-old Washington girl remains missing
- Missing 5-year-old's parents charged with abandonment of different child in their care
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