OLYMPIA – Programs to help children and families would be pulled out of the massive Department of Social and Health Services and given a new home under a bill that passed the House Wednesday with strong support.
Despite comments from some Republicans that the state may just spend money on unnecessary bureaucracy, the House approved a proposal for a new Department of Children, Youth and Families and sent it to the Senate.
The proposal, which has the backing of Gov. Jay Inslee, received a strong push from supporters last week who gathered at the Capitol. Some, like Heather Cantamessa of Rising Strong, drove across state from Spokane to lobby legislators about the need to carve out a new department that can concentrate on issues like foster care.
“The Children’s Administration tends to get lost in DSHS,” she said.
A parent who temporarily lost her children to foster care because of a drug problem, Cantamessa said she hopes the new department will do more to help reunite families and take advantage of the experiences of parents like her who came through the system and got children back.
“We transform our lives to have our families back,” she said.
Improving the foster care system was one of the key points in Wednesday’s debate over the bill. Rep. Tom Dent, R-Moses Lake, said the state needs to do a better job of supporting foster parents and giving families a “pathway to get off welfare.” He proposed three successful amendments to improve the new department’s accountability.
Rep. Ruth Kagi, D-Seattle, described the foster care system as being in turmoil and “we all know things need to change.” The best way to do that is to move programs tied to children and families into a department that’s focused on them.
Ten years ago, the Legislature took a chance and created the Department of Early Learning because lawmakers were convinced they needed to do more to help young children in crucial years before they enter school, Kagi said. Now it’s time to take another chance, and combine that department with other agencies devoted to children, she said.
Children’s Administration would combine with Early Learning next year, and the Juvenile Justice System the year after that.
Rep. Joe Schmick, R-Colfax, said he was concerned about the cost of setting up and running the new department after agencies are moved around and recombined. The state budget office estimates the administrative cost at about $9 million a year.
“Every dollar we used to build a bureaucracy is a dollar not used to help kids,” Schmick said.
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