March 4, 2020
Contact: Debra Johnson
Olympia — Today, the Washington State Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF) releases a revised Secretary’s List of disqualifying crimes and negative actions. DCYF is required by both federal and state law to conduct background checks on anyone who is authorized to care for or have unsupervised access to children in child welfare, juvenile justice and early learning programs. DCYF Secretary Ross Hunter explains in this video why the revised Secretary’s List will improve outcomes for children.
Christal Fields, a toddler teacher whose license was revoked due to a previous conviction, won her case before the Washington State Supreme Court. She shares, “Updating the Secretary’s List definitely helps people like me. I believed that with my faith in God and the hard work of ACLU, the 'no' would turn into a 'yes.' After I had to leave the center, I wound up in a fetal position for days. I was broken. But I had people who believed that I was treated unfairly and that my efforts to change my life and give back to my community were not taken into consideration. After the verdict, DCYF looked at my life based on who I am now. Not only can I work with children again, there are several other people in the world that will now have the same opportunity. They will no longer be judged from something in their past. Collectively, we can be known by what we're changing in our lives today. I thank God that my story was not just mine - it was several other people's who all live different lives. From the wreckage of our past, we have a voice today. We can guide and teach children to do better than we did. I am not who I was 28 years ago. Today, I am free to help children succeed.”
DCYF must adhere to federal standards found in the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 (ASFA), the Child Care and Development Fund Block Grant Act of 2014 (CCDF) and the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003 (PREA) when reviewing an individual’s background information, prior to authorizing unsupervised access to children or youth.
DCYF must also assess an individual’s suitability when their criminal or negative action history is not federally disqualifying, but may relate directly to child safety, permanency or well-being.
Patrick Dowd, Director of the Washington State Office of the Family and Children’s Ombuds states, “Revising the Secretary’s List of Disqualifying Crimes and implementing a fair, inclusive assessment process focused on an individual’s strengths and abilities will enhance programs for children and families and expand relative and licensed placement resources for children in state care.”
DCYF developed the Secretary’s List with internal and external input. The department facilitated eight meetings and more than 100 participants were involved in the yearlong process to produce recommendations for a single combined Secretary’s List. DCYF plans to adopt the list in July 2020, based largely on the recommendations from this group.
Lois Martin, MA of Community Day Center for Children, Inc. says, “DCYF staff facilitated a thoughtful, thorough, inclusive convening. The existing list of permanent disqualifiers is overbroad. Washington needs a system that looks out for our children while not setting up barriers to those who do not pose a safety risk. Thanks to our stakeholder group, DCYF now has a realistic and useful lens to view who can have the privilege of working in early childhood education.”
To read the full revised Secretary’s List and blog, visit the What’s New section of DCYF’s website.