We want to thank the Office of the Family and Children’s Ombuds team for the insights they provided in the 2021 Office of the Family and Children's Ombuds (OFCO) Annual Report.
DCYF supported your team throughout your information gathering efforts, and we concur with your recommendations. Several of the recommendations align with our plan developed to address exceptional placements. We particularly recognize and affirm the recommendations regarding the network of supports families need, including those not provided by DCYF. We remain committed to working with our partners to provide services and support to families as part of our prevention work.
Data collection on some placement exception types was not reported in a trackable way. It is now, and this inflates our numbers somewhat, but an unmeasured problem cannot be resolved. The chart shows the number of unique children experiencing a placement exception for each week in the 4th quarter of the year, once we were reporting all data.
Our trend was down this fall, but jumped up some over the holidays and as a result of recent increased concerns around COVID-19.
Internally, we made a number of changes to better respond to the situation.
We provided very clear direction to our field staff that having children sleep in cars is not an accepted practice. This was never condoned practice nor policy for our agency.
We have raised the visibility of our staffing requirements for these cases and are ensuring intensive and high-quality practice. We are starting with the most challenging cases. I review these actions regularly to ensure we are making progress.
We are bringing youth perspectives into this work. From conversations on allowing cell phone use in BRS facilities and piloting a supported housing model that we are working to have in place by Spring 2022, we are finding ways to make choices to accept care more attractive to youth.
Additional Practice Changes:
- Continue to meet weekly with our partners at DSHS/DDA and the Health Care Authority to work through the most complex individual cases and ensure that the child or youth is being served in the most appropriate setting. Often this is not the child welfare system.
- Developed MOUs with key hospitals serving children to limit discharges where the hospital does not have a plan of safe discharge. In many cases we can work together with the health care system to provide supports so the child can live at home, with their family, or so we can find an appropriate relative or other placement that does not require a child abuse finding.
- Developing MOUs with county detention facilities to limit late-night, no notice discharges of youth to child welfare offices. Adequate notice allows our team to work with families to provide support for returning home or to find an appropriate living setting for the youth that does not involve abandonment of often vulnerable youth. Note the lack of past-tense here – this is an ongoing process and a significant change of behavior for the justice system.
- Ensured Family Team Decision Meetings (FTDMs) and Shared Planning Meetings occur with regularity for youth without stable placements. These meetings include invitations to attorneys and system partners so that we emphasize shared responsibility for planning and problem-solving.
- Additional Behavioral Rehabilitation Services Capacity: We are working with providers on new capacity for very high-needs youth. Standing up new capacity is difficult, complex, and important to get right before serving youth. Labor market changes resulting from the pandemic are making this more difficult than would be desirable.
Again, we appreciate the work of OFCO in compiling this report. We take each complaint and inquiry on exceptional placement or any other matter that runs through OFCO seriously. We are continuing in the challenging work of improving procedures, policy and development of funding to deliver on our mission goal of appropriate services for youth with complex needs.
Ross Hunter, Secretary
Department of Children, Youth, and Families