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The state work group examining last year's spike in adoption abuse cases — including that of a Bunker Hill-area couple accused of starving five adopted children — will hold its first meeting next month.

The group of child experts will examine adoption abuse and the "cluster of very concerning situations in 2011," according to the letter sent by state officials. Five abuse cases involving starvation were reported in 2011, and four involved adopted children. Included in that group is the Cowlitz County criminal case against Jeffrey and Rebecca Trebilcock in May. The couple denies ever harming their children.

The work group will be lead by Denise Revels Robinson, assistant secretary of the state Department of Social and Health Services and Mary Meinig, ombudsman of the state Office of the Family & Children.

The work group will be asked to answer several questions, including:

• Are neglect and abuse, including withholding food, on the rise? And are they more prevalent in adopted homes?

• Are changes needed to foreign or cross-race adoptions procedures? Or in the foster care adoption process?

• Do child welfare agencies maintain adequate long-term data on adoption outcomes?

• Does a push to have more foster children adopted sooner created risks to child safety?

The first meeting is Feb. 21 in Olympia. Officials hope to have their report completed by May.

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