Wednesday, April 9, 2003

State welcomes
inquiry into boy’s care

By Rick Daysog

A top Lingle administration official said she welcomes an independent investigation into last week's death of a 1-year-old Nanakuli boy who was in the custody of the state Child Protective Services.

Lillian Koller, director of the state Human Services Department, said yesterday she supports the special investigation if it would improve the state's CPS system, which oversees more than 4,800 children in foster care.

Koller noted that about a dozen children die each year while in the custody of the CPS, but stressed that the deaths do not all involve abuse or neglect or problems with the CPS system.

"I support (an investigation) because I don't think there's anything for us to turn our eyes away from. I think we need to examine how it's working, and the only way to do it is look at it," Koller said.

"It's a horrible situation when you have children dying. The question is, are they dying because of the system? If so, we have to do something about that system and make it more effective."

Koller's remarks came during a news conference called by state legislators who were critical of CPS's handling of the infant's custody case.

The lawmakers -- House Health Chairman Dennis Arakaki and House Human Services Chairman Michael Kahikina -- have called on the Lingle administration to conduct an independent investigation into the death.

They also have sponsored a House resolution to audit the state's CPS system.

Koller declined to comment on the specifics of the child's death, saying a Family Court judge issued a gag order on the matter yesterday.

But Koller said Family Courts and the state generally have good cause when removing children from parents and placing them under foster care.

The boy's mother, Shanda Keahi, also declined comment yesterday, citing the gag order.

Keahi previously told the Star-Bulletin that she believed that CPS workers were negligent in handing over custody of her son to foster parents who were ill equipped to handle the boy's health condition.

According to a police report, the boy -- who had a history of asthma -- was found unconscious by his foster mother on Friday and was rushed to St. Francis-West Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.

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