FORT SCOTT, Kan. (AP) — The mother of a 22-month-old boy who drowned in a fish pond at his foster parents' home in Fort Scott said she believes the death resulted from neglect, despite a decision from the state and local law enforcement that the drowning was an accident.
Conner Hawes and three other foster children were playing outside while his foster father was watching television inside, when at some point the boy got into a 2-foot-deep fish pond in the backyard. The other children told foster father Peter Brackett they couldn't find Conner and they searched for about an hour before calling 911, according to a Bourbon County Sheriff's report.
State foster care regulations consider such ponds hazards and say young children should not have unsupervised access to them.
Kansas law says records should be released if abuse or neglect causes a child's death or near death. Because the Kansas Department for Children and Families believes Conner's death on Aug. 18 was an accident, it will not release records concerning how the case was handled, The Wichita Eagle reported . The records would permit the public to know If inspectors ever noticed the pond in the backyard or if the foster parents told the agency about the pond or tried to restrict Conner's access.
The Bourbon County Sheriff's Office also found Conner's death was an accidental drowning, based in part on autopsy findings and the "totality of the circumstances," Bourbon County Sheriff Bill Martin said.
"We can't be with them (children) all the time," Martin said. "That's just part of parenting and growing up. It just takes a split second for something to happen."
Conner's mother, Beth Hawes, said the boy's foster parents are nice people but said "They failed to do the No. 1 instinct of a parent, which is to know where your child is, especially that young."
She also cited the delay in contacting law enforcement as suggesting the death was neglect.
Brackett told The Associated Press Monday that he didn't want to comment.
State Rep. Jim Ward, a Democrat from Wichita, said it was wrong that records in the boy's death aren't being released. Ward, a candidate for governor, said the agency has repeatedly refused to release records in deaths of children under its care and the boy's family and taxpayers deserve to know more.
"They've had too many of these deaths where . the child has been in custody," he said. "I don't trust them anymore."
Conner's death occurred before the current director, Gina Meier-Hummel, was named to lead the department last month.
In an email statement on Friday, the agency said Meier-Hummel is committed to transparency and "looks forward to working with Rep. Ward and the entire Kansas legislature on these very important issues in the upcoming legislative session."
The agency said it had referred the matter to legal counsel for action but spokeswoman Taylor Forrest said she couldn't elaborate on what that means.
Hawes says her two other children, a 3-year-old and a 9-year-old, remain in the same foster home where their brother died. She said she lost her children because of substance abuse and is fighting a losing battle with the state to get them back or into the care of a relative.
Information from: The Wichita (Kan.) Eagle, http://www.kansas.com