Thousands of families across our state struggle with mental health issues, neglect, homelessness, poverty and other challenges. Washington’s Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) is the largest department in our state – providing everything from disability, welfare programs, to adult protection, disability and housing support.
In addition, DSHS is charged with the protection of some of our state’s most vulnerable citizens – children. In an agency as big as a small city, it’s not hard to get lost. Too many times help arrives in the midst of a crisis, not before.
But, that could soon change. The Legislature is close to approving legislation authorizing the formation of the new Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF). It would merge the early learning, child welfare programs and juvenile justice programs into one agency.
Children have the right to be safe. The ability to thrive and succeed in school, and beyond, can be limited when they experience emotional and physical trauma. One of the primary duties of DCYF would be to protect children. By combining early learning, child welfare, and the juvenile justice services in the same agency, DCYF will be better able to deliver services and improve outcomes for children.
Another important aspect to the mission of the new agency is helping families. A healthy family can make all the difference in nurturing and supporting children’s learning and social development. Families that have experienced adversity need early intervention and support. The issues of the past, present, and even future, can put invisible chains on children and their parents. Many times DSHS arrives after the trauma has occurred. Families are often shattered or worse yet, separated, by insurmountable lines of law and bureaucracy.
An amendment, offered by House Republicans, and adopted, would help establish the mission and guiding principal of the newly formed agency in providing preventative services. Helping families would go hand-in-hand with improving the general welfare of neglected children. The new agency would be charged with employing strategies to ensure families are not only left intact, but also healthy and thriving. I can’t say enough about how important it is for us to make this a priority in the formation of this new agency.
DCYF’s ongoing work would be to eliminate barriers to effective integrated services across state agencies serving children, youth and families. Also, the agency will have a data-focused environment to help keep track of performance measures and outcomes. Whenever possible, consistent with confidentiality laws, data will be available to the public.
Additionally, House Republicans offered two other amendments that will create even greater levels of visibility and accountability. The first would improve the review process for childcare facility licensing compliance decisions. The second requires a report to the governor, and the Legislature, describing the current process for foster licensing decisions, along with recommendations for improvements.