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New bill to require new resource to help identify child malnutrition during social work visits

A social workers' guide to identify child malnutrition cases has passed the state House of Representatives and is now under consideration by the Senate.

The guide would be required to be easily accessible to social workers, describe how to identify child malnutrition, include questions to ask if child malnutrition is suspected, include next steps staff must take.

Child Protective and Welfare Services are offered to families to protect children from abuse and neglect. The Department of Children, Youth, and Families is responsible for executing these services.

Engrossed House Bill 1274, by Rep. Travis Couture, R-Allyn, would require the DCYF to create the guide for its staff by Sept. 1, 2023, in consultation with the Department of Health.

Couture said people throughout the state care deeply about children, but unfortunately there are times when tragic things occur, causing children to die needlessly.

“A lot of the work that we do sometimes is reactive in nature. Sometimes, something bad has to happen so that we know what to fix when we fix it,” he said.

The bill creates the field guide for the DCYF so when CPS agents and social workers go to homes to check on families, they know what child malnutrition looks like, he said.

Couture said one reason the bill is needed is because a 15-year-old needlessly died in 2017.

Teachers and neighbors were concerned about the young boy and reported that he and his siblings were not receiving proper meals and abused by their adoptive parents, he said.

It took three years and multiple visits for CPS to find they were being beaten, and that food was being locked away and used as a weapon, he said. At the time of his death, the young boy weighed 70 pounds. He had seen a CPS agent just one week prior.

“This child malnutrition field guide seems like such a small step, but it is a step we can take right now to ensure that when these checks and these visits happen, that we can act right away,” he said. “This is one thing that we can do to ensure that not another kid has starved to death in our state.”

With a 96-0 vote, EHB 1274 was approved by the House and is now in the Senate.