Proposed legislation, inspired by the missing 6-year-old Oakville girl Oakley Carlson, has been filed this week in the 68th legislative session.
H.B. 1397, aka the “Oakley Carlson Act,” was written by 19th District Republican Rep.Jim Walsh and given its first read on Wednesday, Jan. 18. The bill, which has been referred to the Committee on Human Services, Youth, and Early Learning, looks to “improve the operations and oversight of Washington’s child welfare system.”
“We’re not giving up on little Oakley and we’re not giving up on the reforms,” said Walsh in an interview with FOX 13 this week. “(This bill) will not only prevent this kind of thing from happening again but if this kind of thing does happen again it will put us in a better position to find the missing child.”
The bill comes amid increased pressure from the public to find out how Oakley was able to return to her birth parents, Jordan Bowers and Andrew Carlson, given their history of drug use and legal issues. Carlson was released from jail after serving nearly five months on child endangerment charges, unrelated to Oakley, in August 2022. Bowers just completed a nine-month sentence at the Washington Correctional Center for Women on child endangerment charges this week but was immediately arrested upon release on accusations of identity theft. She currently remains on trial and is facing a potential 15-year sentence.
One aspect that H.B. 1397 looks to change is the rules for how casework supervision is handled when kids are reunified with their biological parents. According to current Washington law, if the court orders the child to be returned home, casework supervision by the Washington Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF) is required for at least six months, at which time a review hearing is needed as well as a court decision if continued intervention is needed.
If the “Oakley Carlson Act” is enacted, it would require DCYF to perform casework supervision for a minimum of five years before conducting its final hearing and gaining the input of the court before closing a case.
“I think taxpayers can demand better performance from their state agencies; in this case, it’s DCYF,” Walsh said. “Making sure children are well cared for and well provided, I think has got to be a top priority of our state government, so yeah it’s expensive, but it’s money well spent.”
While Bowers and Carlson have been the main focus of the community regarding Oakley’s disappearance, there is speculation that the current DCYF protocol failed in protecting the missing 6-year-old. According to Oakley’s foster parents, Erik and Jamie Jo Hiles, along with investigative work from Light the Way Missing Persons Advocacy Project, DCYF closed its casework supervision of Oakley at the end of March 2021 without seeing Oakley despite Jamie Jo receiving a call from the department a week prior asking for Oakley’s whereabouts.
While it remains unclear if the bill will receive bipartisan support in its journey through the legislative, Walsh anticipates it should begin to go through a committee hearing in a few weeks.