The Washington Department of Children, Youth and Family Services has agreed to pay a $300,000 settlement after an investigation found it failed to provide appropriate services for deaf family members during meetings with social workers, according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Washington.
The Department of Justice’s investigation into the agency’s Child Welfare Program found evidence of failures to provide assistance, including sign-language interpreters, on more than 100 occasions between 2017 and 2019, the release said.
Some unaided communications with deaf or hard-of-hearing family members included interviews during investigations that could lead to termination of parental rights. The DOJ also found lack of legally required services for deaf family members during court-ordered treatments and counseling required for reunification with children, according to the release.
Instead of interpreters, the DOJ found that social workers often relied on note-writing, which limited communication, the release said.
Caseworkers also seemed to have negative views about the willingness of deaf and hard-of-hearing parents to cooperate in the agency’s investigations when parents asked for services, the release said.
The DOJ’s findings pointed to a suspected violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, according to the release.
Though the agency did not admit to failures in the settlement agreement, it will pay $300,000 to complainant families, the release said.
The department also agreed to create new communications policies to follow the Americans with Disabilities Act requirements and publicize those changes, the release said.
The agency will also appoint an ADA coordinator, train employees on the new plan and keep a log to track when social workers use auxiliary aids and services, including interpreter services, according to the release. The U.S. Attorney’s Office will review this log to ensure compliance with the agreement, the release said.
“No individual should be denied or delayed access to public services because of a disability,” Acting United States Attorney Joseph H. Harrington for the Eastern District of Washington said in the release.