Secretary Hunter Ushers DCYF Into the New Year

January 8, 2020
group of children holding hands

Welcome to a new year – 2020! This is the first New Year’s celebration where we are all together as a single agency. It’s humbling to think about the effort that went into the transition over the past two years, but we pulled off the best transfer of agency initials in state history – everyone is getting paid, we didn’t drop the ball on child welfare intakes, kids are getting pre-school, the Juvenile Rehabilitation (JR) transition into DCYF was smooth and mostly problem-free, the result of good planning.

However, the reason I took this job wasn’t to ensure we made payroll. None of our staff did either. Getting payroll and all of the other infrastructure to work is a necessary pre-condition to the work we are really responsible for, which is improving outcomes for Washington’s children. We’ve made some progress:

  • The number of children in foster care is down about 7% from this time last year. Some of this improvement is part of a national trend, but some is because we’re doing good work speeding up adoptions of kids in foster care for a long time.
  • We added thousands of slots of high quality preschool through the ECEAP expansion. Participation in ECEAP has a large impact on the likelihood a child will be ready for kindergarten when they get there.
  • The JR team has been able to plan and move forward with a major change in client base, building an implementation plan for the Legislature’s addition of 21 to 25-year-olds into our population.

During January we’ll be rolling out the first draft of a strategic plan for DCYF. In this you’ll see why it really does make sense for all three component parts of the agency to be together and how we can collectively have a much greater impact on kids. We’ll distribute copies to everyone, and we’ll give you multiple ways to provide input into the plan. I expect it to be final late in the Spring and be the organizing function for our biennial budget plans for the 21-23 budget.

In my couple of hundred words here I can’t do justice to complex planning the whole agency has been doing over the past year, but here’s a brief outline of where we’re going.

Central Ideas:

  • We invest in the educational success of very young children, with a goal of having 90% of all children being ready for kindergarten with services like preschool, early support for infants and toddlers and intensive home visiting.
    • We're not close to 90%. Last year the index was 47%. We will be rolling out an aggressive plan for expansion of state pre-k services in the next few months in conjunction with the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) and have a lot of work to do to make this happen.
  • We contribute to the economic stability of families with young children by working to have safe, high-quality childcare available and affordable to all families.
  • As children get older the responsibility for their education moves to OSPI, but we invest in a host of services aimed at preventing children and youth from experiencing trauma and winding up deeper in our service array. Our role becomes a supportive one, with investments like parenting support programs.
    • The new Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA) at the federal level provides a new source of funds to help with this, and we recently submitted a plan for how we want to use these funds.
  • A small number of children and families require even more extensive support through child welfare or juvenile rehabilitation. Again, our key commitment is to have as few kids and families this deep in the system as possible. We have some work to do here.
    • We have about twice as many kids in foster care as some states do, and with no better safety outcomes. 
      • The key practice change identified in our federal planning efforts is improving the consistency of our safety assessment in all aspects of our work. Doing this is at the heart of our child welfare practice and we’ll be re-committing to the core values of our practice.
      • We also need to shorten the amount of time kids spend in foster care, where we are 4th worst in the nation. Progress was made this year on reducing the time to adoption for legally free kids, but the whole process needs consistent attention with all of our partners in the legal system. Reducing length of stay reduces our caseload, which in turn contributes to better quality work.
    • Addressing adolescents involved with the juvenile justice system
      • The Legislature expanded our responsibility for young people in the JR system up to age 25. This move is supported by all the science about brain development in adolescents, but creates a lot of challenges for our system and we’re working through the planning here. We won’t take on young adults without adequately trained staff to manage them, so staging this will be critical.
      • We released some research this fall about the effectiveness of our key therapeutic plan for these young adults. Dialectical Behavior Therapy is still the state of the art in practice, but as with child welfare we will need to re-commit ourselves to fidelity to the practice model in order to have significant impacts on young people.
    • Both SB 6560 and Governor Inslee’s executive order require us to not release youth from either of our deep end systems into homelessness. I’m expanding our commitment to ensuring that these young people are economically stable when released – with housing, education and employment lined up. This will prevent them from re-entering the system.

You’ll hear more about how we want to do these things in the draft plan, and will have an opportunity to make suggestions and edits to it. As part of our roll out of the draft we’ll also announce how we plan to gather this feedback, both internally and externally. Our goal is to be completely transparent about both the current performance of the system and how we want to change it.

Thanks for reading this far, and stay tuned for the next couple of releases.



Ross Hunter
Department of Children, Youth & Families