Have a Heart for Kids Day rally, 2015

Why We Support the Establishment of a Department of Children, Youth, and Families

Adam 04/12/17

The Washington State Legislature is on the verge of taking unprecedented action on behalf of Washington’s children and families by establishing a cabinet-level Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF). We strongly support passing House Bill 1661 and establishing the department.

The idea to create a unified state department that focuses on the needs of children and families is not a new one. The past thirty years have seen several attempts to create separate children’s department either through legislation or task force recommendations.

In February 2016, Governor Jay Inlsee revived the effort with an executive order creating the Washington State Blue Ribbon Commission on the Delivery of Services to Children and Families to recommend the structure and benchmarks for a new state agency focused on improving services and outcomes for children, youth, and families.

When the executive order was issued, Children’s Alliance issued a statement outlining our position and interest in the issue: any restructuring of services must be done with a mission-level commitment to racial equity, a recognition that resources matter, and the prioritizing of resources for the most vulnerable.

From the outset, we recognized the historic opportunity this effort presents to lay a strong foundation for making real, positive change for children and families in Washington. Children’s Alliance followed the Blue Ribbon Commission process from start to finish, sharing feedback and our priorities during public comment and providing recommendations to the Commission’s co-chairs. In its final recommendation, the Commission endorsed proposals for addressing racial equity in services and outcomes.

One of our top priorities throughout the process has been ensuring that racial equity is embedded in the form, function, and practices of a new department. We want to see an agency built upon a foundation that recognizes and prioritizes ending disparity and disproportionality in programs, services, and outcomes.

In practice, that means we have advocated for the department to have mission-level commitment to equity, strong accountability to child and family outcomes, metrics to reduce disparity across outcomes, oversight on racial disparity and disproportionality, consultation with Tribes and communities, and the inclusion of expertise in reducing disparities on oversight bodies. Children’s Alliance is also advocating for a continued and ongoing high priority for early learning within a Department of Children, Youth, and Families.

The most current version of the DCYF legislation reflects our priorities in many ways; that’s why we strongly support the bill. While this most recent effort originated with the Governor, through thoughtful consideration and debate the Legislature has improved the proposal in multiple areas, especially in regards to developing unprecedented provisions for accountability and oversight. The bill passed the full House (77-19) and a policy committee in the Senate (6-1) with strong bipartisan support.

Even a new state agency with a core commitment to early learning and racial equity cannot, by itself, achieve the common goals we seek. Lasting change takes partnerships, resources, and staying power. Our support for this legislation is powered by our belief that a cabinet-level, child- and family-focused agency that prioritizes racial equity will create a stronger platform for achieving better outcomes in the future. 

Now the proposal must be funded in the budget. To make that happen, legislators and budget negotiators need to hear from parents, community leaders and other advocates who want to see positive change for Washington’s children and families.

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