A bold new approach to managing the state’s foster-care system is long overdue, but within reach. It is now up to Gov. Jay Inslee and the Legislature to put this plan in motion.
THERE is no shortage of reports and stories in the print and social media about the dire state of foster care in our state and throughout the country.
Statistics reinforce the message: Half the roughly 9,000 children in care in Washington are 5 years old or younger, one-quarter of these children have lived in five or more homes, and annual state social worker turnover is approaching 30 percent in some areas. The realities for these children are stark and, we can all agree, unconscionable.
It is tempting, and all too easy, to embrace the notion that most of what ails our child-welfare system is attributable to the actions (or inaction) of state government. That gets us off the hook and it is conveniently simplistic. It ignores the significant role, the opportunity and the importance the private sector must play in the world of child and family welfare.
Foster care is not a system; it is a network. A network of public agencies, private partners, and — most important — a large community of outstanding and compassionate citizens. The successes and the failures of this network is not directly attributable to any one source. When this network does harm, it is a collective failure of us all, a failure reflected in the hearts, minds and lives of the children who come into our care through no fault of their own. The only state that fails them is a state of indifference. And that is not Washington.
There is change afoot. And with change comes hope and a great source for optimism. Through an executive directive, Gov. Jay Inslee appointed a blue-ribbon commission earlier this year to consider restructuring state government to better serve the needs of children, youth and families in Washington. The governor demonstrated initiative and leadership with this action, for which he deserves praise.
The commission has delivered to the governor its final report. This report has recommended a number of dramatic changes in the way our state agencies are currently organized. In addition to proposing that the Children’s Administration merge into the Department of Early Learning, the commission is advising the creation of a division within this new state agency that would be charged with Innovations and Alignment. While this division could and will look for opportunity within state government, it can also reach out to the private sector for additional innovation and collaboration.
With the heightened focus, accountability and transparency this structure would allow, this new state agency will be a far more attractive and effective partner to attract private-sector involvement. Through the strength of innovation and public-private alignment, there is no reason our state can’t be a model to the nation of strong and effective public-private partnerships.
Thrive by Five, a most recent example of the impact of a productive public-private partnership, has improved the lives and educational experience of the most vulnerable of the children, youth and families in our state. We can do it again. And again. And again.
The governor has taken a great step. The Legislature should endorse the creation of a new state agency and a stronger partner for the community. This will herald a new day and an exciting opportunity for the community and, to take liberty with Abraham Lincoln’s words: “a government of the people, by the people, for the children.”