Child Welfare Now a Cabinet Level Agency in Washington State

Last week, Washington Governor Jay Inslee signed a bill making the leader of the state’s expanded child welfare system a member of his cabinet.

Bill 1661 creates the Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF), a new agency focused on restructuring state services for at-risk youth.

Following the recommendations of the state’s Blue Ribbon Commission on the Delivery of Services to Children and Families, DCYF will focus on utilizing data to better guide intervention and prevention programs.

The new agency will oversee a range of services, including those currently under the state’s Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS), Department of Early Learning (DEL) and Juvenile Rehabilitation office.

“The vision for this department comes right out of the bill itself: that Washington’s children and youth grow up safe and healthy,” Inslee said in a recent press release.

In 2006, Washington formed a cabinet-level Department of Early Learning (DEL). A decade later, in February 2016, Inslee looked to further DEL’s aims by establishing the Blue Ribbon Commission to inform the launch of DCYF. Consisting of 16 members from both political parties, the commission outlined plans for DCYF’s overall mission, proposals for funding and operational structure.

Scheduled to launch next July, DCYF will partner with local agencies and tribes to help “youth and their families who are at highest risk of adverse experiences that often lead to poor academic, social and emotional outcomes, as well as involvement in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems,” according to the commission’s final report, issued in November 2016.

The commission determined that creating a single agency to coordinate existing state policies would be the most effective way to address child abuse and neglect and encourage healthy childhood development. Highlighting research on brain science and interviews with key stakeholders, the final report concluded that the new department should focus on healthy brain development during adolescence to reduce the chances of criminal behavior later on.

“Recent science about how young brains develop allows us to rethink many long-held beliefs and invest upstream, preventing harm to young people,” said Ross Hunter, the current director of the state’s DEL and recently appointed to lead the new agency, in a press release.

In addition to establishing DCYF, the bill sets up an Office of Innovation, Alignment and Accountability to promote better collaboration and accountability across the various agencies and services intended for at-risk youth.

“We want to prevent harm to children and youth rather than just react to it,” Inslee said.

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Stephanie Pham
About Stephanie Pham 16 Articles
Stephanie is a summer fellow for The Chronicle of Social Change and Fostering Media Connections as part of Stanford University's Haas Center for Public Service fellowship program.

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