The federal government is about to release the results of a review of how Washington handles child abuse and neglect cases. This is an assessment that no state “passes,” but it gives us a pretty clear idea of our strengths and what we need to improve. In a brilliant naming strategy, it’s called the “Child and Family Services Review,” or CFSR for short.
The review covers safety, permanency, family and child well-being outcomes, as well as the systems we have in place, such as our case review system, licensing, recruitment, staff training, and the agency’s responsiveness to the community. In this review, our federal partners identified
“. . .. several areas of strength in Washington’s Child welfare system, including functioning quality assurance (QA) and foster care licensing systems, strong community engagement, coordination of services with federal agencies, and training that meets the needs of licensed foster parents . . . casework practice that ensures children’s educational needs are met and . . . concerted efforts to place siblings together in foster care when possible. The CFSR findings indicate that agency caseworkers routinely make face-to-face contact with children subject to child maltreatment reports in a timely manner during the investigation state of service delivery. High-quality caseworker contacts with children in foster care ensure that important permanency connections and educational needs are routinely met.”
We must continue to strive for improved service to children and families. Following prior reviews, we made significant advances in our child welfare programs, such as shortening response times for child maltreatment responses, ensuring that every child receives a medical and dental screening when they enter care. As with prior reviews, we will use the results to significantly improve our performance.
This review highlighted some problems we know we have:
- Timely permanent plans, or making decisions quickly so the child is with their forever family as soon as possible. This benchmark is moving in the wrong direction. We will use a new permanency grant and other strategies to fix this.
- Children do not receive all the services they need to manage their physical and mental health needs. We have specific work to do on delivering dental care after the screening.
The CFSR highlighted other concerns we need to address as a state, not just a child welfare system. For example, we don’t have broadly available services to kids and families in rural areas. This includes effective drug or alcohol addiction treatment and evidence-based programs to help families deal with conflict. The CFSR will also make clear the deep concern we all share about having a mental health system that needs significant improvement for everyone, not just families in the foster care system.
Governor Inslee’s budget proposes reductions in caseloads for our caseworkers to national standards, enabling them to give adequate attention to every family. The governor also proposes rate increases in placement options for kids with severe behavioral health needs that should enable us to end hotel and office overnight stays. Including these two changes in the final budget is critical to improving our performance on the federal benchmarks and to doing right by kids who need it most.
Congress also made some changes that should improve the system. For the first time in decades they’re providing matching funds for investments in preventing kids from winding up in foster care instead of just providing funding when they do wind up there. We’re excited about this enormous opportunity to make the system better for kids and are working on plans to use a number of evidence-based interventions to improve outcomes for kids.
We have some other goals that don’t appear in the federal list: simple things like ensuring that foster kids graduate from high school at the same rate as their peers, that they don’t experience even more trauma after we become involved in the case, and that the racial disproportionality that is present in the system is eliminated.
We’re going to have to show our federal funders that we have a plan to fix our permanence issue, that services will be more available everywhere, and that we’re making effective use of the new prevention funds. Later this year we’ll introduce our formal plan to make the system better.
We will continue to send you updates how we plan to transform the system through our improvement plan (Program Improvement Plan) and our upcoming five-year plan (Child and Family Services Plan).