Department Merger Aims for Juvenile Justice Reform in Washington

Washington Governor Inslee signs a bill to move the state’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Child Care Subsidy under the jurisdiction of the Department of Children, Youth and Families. Photo courtesy of the Governor’s Office

Earlier this month, Washington state completed a year-long process of moving its juvenile justice and child care operations from its health department to its child welfare agency.

State leaders have said the merger will help Washington better manage the needs of vulnerable children and families.

“We shouldn’t be waiting until a child is harmed to step in,” Gov. Jay Inslee (D) wrote on his state blog page on July 2. “By bringing together the staff who work most with children and families, we’re going to be much better able to identify children and parents or caretakers who are struggling and need support.”

The state’s Juvenile Rehabilitation Agency, Office of Juvenile Justice and Child Care Subsidy program now fall under the jurisdiction of the Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF), moving from the Department of Social and Health Services. The governor’s decision to merge child-serving systems under the DCYF in July 2017 was based on the state recommendations of the Washington State Blue Ribbon Commission on the Delivery of Services to Children and Families.

An Office of Innovation, Alignment, and Accountability has been established to develop goals and examine the ways in which race, ethnicity and poverty affect a child’s opportunity for success. When asked why these changes were necessary, DCYF Secretary Ross Hunter stated, “We have been tasked with designing an agency that helps all children and families thrive. I want to build a system that is more equitable and that is centered in the communities we serve.”

Last year, Hunter also commented on the need for a change in the way the juvenile justice system worked with child welfare, citing an immense crossover in the populations of both.

“An overlap between the juvenile justice population and the child welfare population is even more striking,” Hunter said. “Seventy-eight percent of the kids in our biggest facility have been involved in the child welfare system. I think it’s just crazy. You’ve got all of the same dysfunction that’s everywhere else with racial disproportionality. Every single step of the way, it gets worse.”

Washington joins 11 other states in bringing the juvenile justice system under the direct control of its child welfare agency, according to the website Juvenile Justice Geography, Policy, Practice and Standards. Eighteen juvenile justice agencies are independent, 11 are overseen by broader health agencies, and 10 are run by the adult corrections system.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email