In 2022 the Washington State Legislature passed E2SHB 1227 - the Keeping Families Together Act. The act made several changes to RCW 13.34, the Juvenile Court Act, regarding child dependency cases. The intent of the act was to safely reduce the number of children placed into foster care, reduce racial disproportionality in the child welfare system, and support relatives to take care of children when they must be placed out of home to protect their safety.
In early 2022, the Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) convened stakeholder workgroups to recommend strategies for DCYF and the child welfare system partners to meet the requirements and intent of this legislation. Subsequently, DCYF incorporated many of these recommendations into key projects in the Thriving Families Initiative, which focuses on prevention, supporting families and staff, and strengthening our practice.
The Keeping Families Together Act went into effect on July 1, 2023.
What does HB 1227 change?
- Increases the standard for police and hospitals to take a child into protective custody through a “law enforcement hold” or a "hospital hold."
- Increases the standard for a court to issue a "pick up order" directing DCYF or law enforcement to take a child into protective custody.
- Increases the standard for the court to order that a child be removed from the home at a shelter care hearing to "imminent risk of physical harm." The evidence must show a causal relationship between conditions in the home and the threat of harm.
- Requires the court to weigh the harm of removal.
- Requires the court to consider if participation in services would prevent the need for removal. If so, should the parent agree to services at the Shelter Care Hearing, the court shall place the child with the parent.
- Requires the court to place with a relative or other suitable person unless placement into foster care is necessary because no relative can provide for the "basic safety" of the child.
- Requires that the court place a child with a relative even if there is an incomplete background check, the relative doesn’t believe the parent is a danger to the child, or the relative’s home doesn’t meet licensing requirements.
- Requires DCYF provide financial support when children are placed with relatives or suitable persons.
- Allows the court to order DCYF to issue an initial foster care license for the relative so they may begin receiving foster care maintenance payments.
- Beginning in December of 2022, DCYF has implemented new policies and procedures to determine whether to file a dependency petition with the Juvenile Court, including a new process for conducting "Safe Child Consultations."
- These changes were informed by the E2SHB 1227 Workgroup which included community stakeholders and court partners developed by the Removal Standards project as a part of the Thriving Families Initiative.
- In addition, DCYF has held numerous staff trainings and offered staff drop-in hour sessions to train and support staff in the new process and use of the safety framework to identify imminent risk of physical harm.
Safe Child Consultations occur prior to filing a petition with the Juvenile Court to removal a child. A child welfare caseworker first completes a safety assessment. If the assessment indicates an imminent risk of physical harm that cannot be managed through a safety plan, then a Safe Child Consultation is scheduled. These consultations offer support for the caseworker to determine if there are additional measures that can be taken in the safety plan for the family to prevent the need to remove the child from the home.
The consultation team additionally documents any factors that could change the recommendation for removal. If the consultation results in a recommendation to file a dependency petition, this is not the final decision. The decision may change as the result of a Family Team Decision Making Meeting which is a shared planning meeting that includes the family, the child (if over age 12) and may include extended family, friends, or other supports.
While the Keeping Families Together Act is going into effect, the state of Washington is also implementing Plan of Safe Care (POSC). POSC prevents the unnecessary involvement of substance exposed newborn babies in the child welfare system. When a baby is born exposed to cannabis or synthetic opioids that were prescribed by a doctor to treat substance use disorder (such as methadone or buprenorphine) and there are no other safety concerns present, medical professionals no longer need to report the case to DCYF Intake. Instead, they refer the family for supports and services through Plan of Safe Care.
HB 1227 and Plan of Safe Care are overlapping policies that are resulting in a decrease in a decrease in the number of substance exposed newborns being removed from their parents and placed into foster care.
Impacts of HB 1227
Early data show that the new law is having its intended effect of reducing the number of children removed from their homes and placed into foster care. DCYF has seen a 30% reduction in the number of children coming into care between July 1, 2023, and September 30, 2023, compared to the same period in 2022.
Entries into care are down across all categories of out of home placements including:
- Court ordered placements
- Voluntary placements
- Protective custodies
In addition, DCYF has seen a slight increase in the number of parents participating in Family Voluntary Services.
The largest reductions in out-of-home placements are among infants.