DCYF Releases Revised Secretary's List

March 4, 2020
group of diverse young children

The Department of Children, Youth & Families (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.

The agency maintains several lists of crimes that disqualify people from working in this area with children. We inherited these lists from the agencies that were combined to create DCYF. In many cases, the lists have not been comprehensively reviewed for decades, even though the science behind ensuring safety for children has changed significantly in that time.

In foster care, children of color are often placed with strangers because close relatives with criminal history that is often decades old are excluded from consideration as a placement. Judges often overrule these arbitrary decisions because they know children do much better when placed with people they know. In these cases, the kin placement does not get the financial support a stranger placement would get. All of these scenarios are bad for children.

Historical law enforcement racial inequity significantly affects the employment prospects of people of color in many fields, including caring for children. There is growing evidence in education that teachers of color positively impact outcomes for children.

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.

More than 100 participants from both internal and external groups affected by these lists worked for over a year to produce a recommendation for a single combined Secretary’s List. DCYF is announcing the list we intend to adopt in July 2020, based largely on the recommendations from this group.

The Secretary’s List of Crimes and Negative Actions was developed to ensure that every child DCYF serves is safe, while also staying true to our federal requirements. The updated list has a less restrictive lens that creates opportunities for more individuals to have a second chance through individualized consideration. This reduces the number of automatic disqualifiers, reduces racial inequities and improves outcomes for children.

The proposed Secretary’s List reduces the number of permanent and five-year disqualifying crimes and negative actions, and eliminates crimes that do not relate directly to child safety, permanence or well-being. The new list reduces disproportional impacts throughout the entire background check processes and creates a system that ensures consistency and recognizes unique circumstances and rehabilitation.

Assessing an individual’s suitability instead of automatically disqualifying them provides children and youth an opportunity to stay connected with family and access culturally representative and responsive services. These assessments allow the department to consider placement and unsupervised access of children in out-of-home care with relatives and other persons who have a relationship with these children. The department is charged with keeping families together and to seek placement with relatives when appropriate and safe. These assessments also allow the department to approve persons to provide child care and early learning services or work with the department whose criminal history may be disproportionate to their achievements and behavior since the conviction or commission of their crime(s).

The Process

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. Participants included DCYF leaders and representatives as well as child welfare and early learning partners, including:

  • Child Placing Agencies
  • Child Welfare Background Check Workgroup
  • Early Learning Advisory Council
  • Foster Parents of Washington State
  • Group Care Agencies
  • Indian Policy Early Learning Committee
  • Office of Family and Children’s Ombuds
  • Office of Public Defense
  • SEIU 925
  • Washington Child Care Centers Association
  • Washington Coalition of Homeless Youth Advocacy

The new list for child welfare and early learning will take effect in July 2020.

Next Steps

This first phase is to implement the list of crimes and negative actions for child welfare and early learning applicants. More work is required to consolidate the background check process for DCYF employees, including juvenile rehabilitation staff. This includes working with the Washington Federation of State Employees. DCYF is committed to continuing work with our partners to implement the updated Secretary’s List.

The goal is to achieve the following by July 2020:

  • Rulemaking: Update WAC 110-04 and WAC 110-06 to implement the new Secretary’s List and individualized suitability assessments of background information.
  • Policy: DCYF must update background check policy and processes that will:
    • Eliminate secondary background check assessments performed by DCYF.
    • Expand the current character, competence and suitability review process to include early learning providers whose background information requires an individualized assessment.
  • Ability for a relative or suitable other who has a relationship with a child or youth to appeal the initial background check decision to deny placement.
  • Continue to work with child welfare and early learning partners to refine the department’s process to assess an applicant’s suitability to have unsupervised access to children or youth.

Note: This list will apply to all new early learning and child welfare applicants starting July 2020. DCYF will apply this list prospectively for existing providers at the time of renewal. Any child welfare or early learning applicant previously disqualified that may qualify under the new criteria must complete a new background check after the Secretary’s List, processes and rules are implemented in July.