Today, foster children are less likely to be shuttled between multiple homes during their time in the foster care system. They are more likely to be visited by their social worker at least once a month. If they have a brother or sister, they are less likely to be separated — and more likely to keep in contact with that one person in their lives who represents stability and normalcy. This is evidence of positive change in Washington State’s child welfare system.
Yes, the child welfare system is at a crossroads — a big component of the Braam class-action settlement that stirred things up 10 years ago is nearing an end. The settlement created a five-member independent accountability panel, which set measures to track the progress of children in foster care. While not all of the measures have been fully achieved, the Children’s Administration at the Department of Social and Health Services has met a number of key Braam settlement measures despite experiencing substantial funding and staffing cuts since 2009.
But the transparency required of the Children’s Administration will not vanish just because the panel goes away. In fact, the system will be more transparent than ever before due, in part, to House Bill 1774, sponsored by Rep. Roger Freeman.
The bill, now signed into law by Governor Inslee, directs a university-based child welfare research entity, like Partners for Our Children (POC) based at the University of Washington, and DSHS, in collaboration with other stakeholders, to measure key outcomes for children and families in the child welfare system.
Every quarter, state agencies will provide comprehensive data to POC, which will then make data available to the public through an easy-to-navigate, online portal. Eventually, case workers, legislators, media and even the next door neighbor, will know how the system is working, or where it has work to do — statewide or by county. Some of this information has been and will continue to be available through state websites, but the portal provides the ability to look at data trends over time in a number of different areas.
It is in everyone’s best interest to continue to strive toward the original goals of the Braam settlement — ensuring the health and safety of foster children in our state through stability, permanency, mental health, education, training and support. It is just as important to continue to make gains to how families and children are served before children come into foster care. HB 1774 focuses on all of these areas. The work that the Braam oversight panel did, in collaboration with the Children’s Administration and the Braam plaintiffs’ attorneys, to develop and track measurements will be key in informing how to measure child outcomes in the future.
So while the court-mandated accountability panel has gone away, its legacy of transparency lives on through HB 1774. In effect, the outgoing five-member panel will now grow to include every citizen in our state — if we need the data, we’ll find it on the online portal or on the state’s websites. We all play a role in improving the outcomes for children in the foster care system.
Reporting results to the public on a regular basis is a big step towards transparency and accountability. The DSHS Children’s Administration, Columbia Legal Services and Partners for Our Children are committed to the health and safety of all vulnerable children in Washington State. We’ve seen that progress has been made over the last decade, but there is still work to be done to ensure children and families are being served as we all intended.
We all agree that the ultimate goal is for every child to thrive, including those in foster care. Continued transparency will be critical to reaching this goal, and HB 1774 will help us build upon this legacy.
Go here to for all Crosscut's Kids at Risk coverage.