An open letter from Dee Wilson
Dear Governor Inslee:
I understand that your Office is considerings cuts of $81 million dollars or more to the state’s child welfare system. Cuts of this magnitude would be ruinous to child welfare in multiple ways. Please consider:
Washington State cut its foster care budget by $50 million dollars during the Great Recession, a budget reduction that undermined the state’s Behavioral Rehabilitation Services (BRS) programs, and resulted a few years later in hotel placements (more than 1500 days in a recent years), costly out-of-state placements that, at one point, reached 80-100 on any given day but have since been greatly reduced; 24-hour placements in which foster children are moved from home to home on a daily basis, while young children are babysat in DCYF offices during the day. The large cut in foster care funding in 2008-09 has had destructive effects on the quality of foster care in Washington for more than a decade.
Your Office and the legislature took much needed steps in the recent legislative session to begin to rebuild BRS resources for behaviorally troubled youth. Please do not undo the good that has been done in the past two years to eliminate out of home placements that are themselves instances of institutional abuse, placements that cost ridiculous amounts of money while providing inadequate and unsafe care.
Neither your Office nor the legislature has made any serious attempt to reduce child welfare caseworkers’ workloads to manageable levels. A recently released report mandated by the legislature found that many DCYF offices in the state have average caseloads of 20 or more, one-third to one-half (at least) above a reasonable standard, and sometimes double the national standard of 12-15 cases. DCYF child welfare offices cannot take staffing cuts and continue to deliver child welfare services according to state and federal mandates. Cuts in staffing levels should be the last thing considered in reducing the DCYF child welfare budget.
the legislature proceed with cuts in caseworker and unit supervisor positions, then cuts in staffing levels should be accompanied by statutory language stating: “during this time of economic hardship and inadequate staffing levels, statutory mandates regarding child protection and foster care shall be viewed as guidelines rather than mandates.” Nothing will do more damage to the state’s child welfare workforce than making large cuts in staffing at the caseworker and supervisor levels while rigidly insisting on compliance with all state and federal laws. To act in this fashion would demoralize the workforce and lead to a collapse of all practice standards. That is a disaster which would require a decade or more to repair and which would invite a class action lawsuit on behalf of endangered children and poorly cared for foster children.
Your Office must be aware that this state’s public mental health system is in dire straits and has been for years. If, at this time, policymakers make large cuts in public mental health funding, then your Office and the legislature might as well do away with the entire system, and begin anew when policymakers are prepared to create good mental health services for children with open child welfare cases and low income children and adults.
In summary, please think twice and reflect before doing immense harm to public systems that are already stretched to the breaking point, even if you and other policymakers actually have to ask the public to accept higher taxes; or ask wealthy philanthropists in this state for temporary assistance.