Lawmaker says tougher child protection laws in Washington could help save kids like Ariel Garcia in the future

OLYMPIA, Wash. - A lawmaker says the death of 4-year-old Everett boy Ariel Garcia might have been prevented were it not for a change in legislation that makes it easier for parents with drug abuse issues to keep custody of a child.

Representative Travis Couture, (R) District 35, says that legislation that was introduced this session would have put measures in place to better protect kids, but much of it did not pass.

On March 28, the search for Ariel Garcia ended in tragedy. His mother is now behind bars, accused of stabbing him around 16 times. Detectives say his grandmother had been trying to get custody of the 4-year-old, telling court officials in an audio recording that her daughter had been using drugs and alcohol.

Republican Rep. Travis Couture believes stronger child protection laws might have helped Ariel.

"We don’t want instances like what we saw with this case with little Ariel where, you know, he’s murdered, he’s dumped like garbage on the side of I-5, like his life didn’t matter," said Couture, a representative from the 35th District.

Couture feels the problem started in 2021 when the legislature passed the Keeping Families Together Act or House Bill 1227, making it more difficult for DCYF to remove juveniles from a home if the parents are addicted to drugs. The goal was to keep families together and reduce racial injustice. The law now states that the child needs to be at risk of imminent physical harm before caseworkers get involved.

Couture proposed a rebuttable presumption bill last session, that would have classified hard drug abuse as imminent harm while allowing parents to respond in court.

"What we would have been able to do is more easily remove kids from those dangerous situations," he said.

Instead, he said lawmakers passed a "watered-down" bill and only addressed fentanyl.

"What that bill did is only for fentanyl and nothing else, no other drugs," he said.

Couture says his bill might have also helped with an intervention in the case of Jordan Sorensen, a Port Townsend man who admitted that he hid his infant's body in the bushes in January.

Couture says the death of children like Ariel could continue to rise without changes.

"The mother had been involved with CPS before, was known to use drugs, had something like my bill been in place, that death might have been prevented," said Couture.

He plans to work on legislation before the next session to attempt to strengthen child protection laws and could pre-file in December.    

More on Ariel Garcia's case

Docs: WA mother stabbed son 16+ times, repeatedly lied to police

Everett missing child: Grandma granted emergency custody days prior, docs say

AMBER Alert criteria: Why one wasn't sent for Everett missing boy found dead

Timeline: Missing 4-year-old boy Ariel Garcia's body believed found near Everett

Everett Police locate body, believed to be missing 4-year-old boy