No one is saying that the contents of a much anticipated 16-page review of the Robert Manwill case could have saved the 8-year-old boy from horrendous abuse, neglect and eventual murder in July 2009. But the report, completed on Jan. 10 and publicly released on March 5, is designed to serve as a foundation to prevent similar nightmares from happening again.
In December 2010, Health and Welfare Director Dick Armstrong told Boise Weekly that he couldn't reveal many details of the pending review.
"Because this is a criminal trial, there will be other facts coming out," said Armstrong. "And for us to convene a panel prior to the trial could jeopardize the legal proceedings."
But the trials of Manwill's mother, Melissa Jenkins, and her boyfriend, Daniel Ehrlick, are now over. Both were found guilty of the systematic abuse of Manwill. Ehrlick is behind bars for life for the boy's murder. Jenkins is in prison for 25 years, without parole, for aiding and abetting the crime.
Testimony during both trials revealed that Health and Welfare social workers had visited Jenkins' home in the months leading up to Manwill's death because another son of Jenkins' was the subject of a separate child-protection case.
According to the report, Manwill was considered a "contact child," because he resided in a household where there was an active protective case involving his half-brother. The panel wants Armstrong and his Health and Welfare colleagues to be armed with stronger investigative authority for any and all children in a household, even if only one is formally protected by the state of Idaho.
"[Health and Welfare] should develop guidelines to assess the risks of abuse, neglect or abandonment to a contact child," wrote the panel.
In a formal response to the recommendation, Armstrong confirmed changes would soon be made in his agency:
"By June 2012, the department will modify its standard, in reference to service planning, to specifically address all contact children who may be present in the household," wrote Armstrong.
The panel wants Armstrong to go a step further by convening a regular working group to review child mortality throughout Idaho. But such a review reaches beyond the current scope or legal jurisdiction of Idaho's Department of Health and Welfare.
"A child mortality review evaluates all children's deaths, which includes deaths that are natural, accidental--such as car accidents or drowning--suicides, or from abuse or neglect," wrote Armstrong, who said he would need a green light from the Idaho Governor's Task Force on Children at Risk
The chairperson of the Manwill panel was Elizabeth Brandt, associate dean of the University of Idaho College of Law. Also participating were doctors Kenny Bramwell and Paul McPherson, Health and Welfare managers Shirley Alexander and Jane Smith, Canyon County Prosecutor Bryan Taylor, Ada County Public Defender Annie Cosho, Gem County Coroner John Buck, Boise Police Det. Bill Bones, Lt. Erik Skoglund of the Nampa Police Department, attorneys Kirt Naylor and Nancy Thaemert, and Gary Harvey, a retired teacher from the Boise area.