While the results of the 2017 legislative session are still being assessed, given that much of its most important decisions were made in secret behind closed doors, it seems lawmakers made a common-sense move as time was running out.
The Legislature approved creation of the Department of Children, Youth and Families.
The new agency combines the state Department of Early Learning with programs that have historically operated under the Department of Social and Health Services, along with other agencies, the Children’s Administration, juvenile-justice programs and ombudsman services.
We advocated for this move months ago. The needs of children are simply too important to get lost at DSHS, the mega-agency that provides a safety net for Washingtonians — everything from medical, disability and housing support to welfare programs and adult protection.
Sen. Maureen Walsh, R-College Place, has been a strong advocate for the new agency. She sat on Gov. Jay Inslee’s blue-ribbon Commission on Children and Families.
She said she believes the new agency will help prevent problems, thus reducing the need to take state action and spend tax dollars.
“We have an unrealistic expectation that the state can step in after problems occur and make things right,” Walsh said in a prepared statement. “We are more likely to achieve a good outcome if we act early to provide families with the assistance they need. We may even see a financial return as fewer families re-enter the system. Managing our child-welfare programs in a more effective way is something on which I think everyone in Washington can agree.”
Walsh said earlier this year that new agency could be created with an investment of $10 million. That could be a bargain if the new agency does keep children and families from having serious and expensive problems.
Walsh, who previously served in the state House, has long been a champion of early learning programs. She had a central role in the establishment of the Department of Early Learning.
She now sees merit in allowing that department to essentially absorb the case workers from DSHS and those in the juvenile justice system to become the new Department of Children, Youth and Families.
“Instead of reacting after problems occur, when families are already ‘broken,’ the new department will stress prevention strategies to give families the tools to keep problems from occurring in the first place,” Walsh said.
If the new agency works as expected, it should be a winner for Washington’s families and taxpayers.