Gov. Jay Inslee has signed an executive order that sets in motion a transformative new structure for delivering services to the children of Washington state.
Inslee intends to work with the Legislature to create a new cabinet agency charged with overseeing the services the state provides to vulnerable children and families. Many of these services are currently administered by the state Department of Social & Health Services.
“Of all the resources we have in the state of Washington, our children are by far the most precious. But while we have entire state agencies dedicated to priorities like Natural Resources, Revenue, and Transportation, we do not have a department specifically dedicated to our children,” Inslee said. “Today, we are beginning the process to change that.”
Inslee cited growing evidence from states such as New Jersey, Tennessee and Indiana that have created separate children’s departments and are seeing better outcomes due to the improved focus, visibility and accountability on children’s services.
The idea to create a separate agency for child welfare was first introduced by legislators in 1988 and numerous proposals have been passed since then. In 2007, a Joint Task Force on Administration and Delivery to Services of Children and Families did an extensive review of the idea and recommended the state create a separate department.
“It’s taken nearly 30 years of debate, but we’re finally prioritizing the unique needs of children and youth by giving their voice a seat at the cabinet table. Bravo!” said Justice Bobbe J. Bridge (ret.), Founding President/CEO, Center for Children & Youth Justice.
Washington state made a similar move in 2007 to boost early learning by creating a Department of Early Learning. Rep. Ruth Kagi (D-Seattle), chair of the House Early Learning and Human Services Committee, said the success of DEL is one reason she’s supporting Inslee’s proposal.
“Our children and families will greatly benefit from an agency dedicated to improving outcomes for our youngest Washingtonians,” Kagi said. “I have opposed this idea for many years, but the Department of Early Learning has demonstrated how much alignment and focus on outcomes can dramatically improve both the quality of services and the efficiency of managing complex programs. I wholeheartedly support the governor’s proposal.”
Inslee’s executive order creates a Blue Ribbon Commission on the Delivery of Services to Children and Families. The Commission is tasked with sending the Legislature recommendations for the organizational structure, cost estimates for IT and capital, and measurable benchmarks for assessing the effectiveness of the new department. The Commission’s report is due November 1, 2016.
“We need crystal clear guidance moving forward to make sure we’re not just reshuffling the deck chairs but are truly making our children safer, healthier, more secure, and connected to adults who care about them,” Inslee said.