Governor, foster care advocates make push for new children and family department

Inslee hopes to sign bill creating a system focused on preventing harm to children and promoting safe, healthy families.

Gov. Jay Inslee met with foster parents, youth and advocates Tuesday in Olympia to discuss his proposal to create a new Department of Children, Youth and Families and improve the state’s foster care system.

Gov. Jay Inslee meeting with foster parents and foster children and advocates in his office in Olympia, Wash. on June 20, 2017 (Official Governor’s Office Photo)

House Bill 1661, sponsored by Rep. Ruth Kagi, restructures state services for children and families to create a system that is focused on helping families and children thrive by preventing harm rather than reacting to it. The plan follows the recommendations of the bipartisan blue ribbon commission convened by the governor last year.

“We want to do three things with this bill: be preventative rather than reactive; streamline services for children and families; and improve communication between agencies and the people they serve,” Inslee said.

The state House of Representatives has passed HB 1661 three times with strong bipartisan support.

Speaking Tuesday, Azia Ruff, a network representative of The Mockingbird Society and a dependent through the state’s extended foster care program, said that her experience in the foster care system has positively influenced her. However, Ruff’s situation was atypical when compared with her foster care peers, she said.

“I’ve noticed that the compassion, transparency and undivided attention that I’ve gotten in my experience and care is not standard for my peers and my colleagues,” she said. “I think that if we have a system of delivering care, it should be standard that this care is quality to all.”

Patty Flanagan-Linderman was orphaned at a young age and experienced the brunt of mismanagement, lack of standardization and inexperienced foster parents. She now is a foster parent and works at Foster Innovation Labs, an organization whose goal is to eradicate the detrimental aspects of the foster care system.

Patty Flanagan-Linderman speaks to reporters during a media event in the governor’s office in Olympia, Wash., June 20, 2017. (Official Governor’s Office Photo)

“One of the pieces in the bill that I’m really happy about is that they are going to involve foster parents as part of the advisory board informing the decision makers about what’s important,” Flanagan-Linderman said.

The new agency, after a transition period, would oversee several services now offered through the state Department of Social and Health Services and the Department of Early learning. These include Child Protective Services, the Family Assessment Response program, child welfare case management, in-home support services, adoption support, out-of-home licensing functions and extended foster care for youth up to age 21.

Aaron Edwards, a foster parent and adoptive parent of three, hopes integrating services into one department will provide foster families with a more positive experience.

Aaron Edwards, foster parent from Seattle, speaks during a media event in the governor’s office in Olympia, Wash., June 20 2017. (Official Governor’s Office Photo)

“I’m very, very supportive of this reorganization of all of the children’s services for kids in need in our state,” Edwards said. “The foster kids are of the small portion that fall out the backend and we’re there to help them. And I think that this bill will really make a big difference in their lives.”

The meeting ended with Inslee restating the importance of the bill.

“We know that this can work because it has worked in other states,” Inslee said. “We know that it can be a bipartisan success. It passed the House overwhelmingly with bipartisan support. It now needs to pass the Senate and get to my desk for signature.”