Children's Administration, Department of Social and Health Services
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Child Welfare System Improvements

Child fatality reviews provide pathways to improvements to the child welfare system

Child abuse and neglect fatalities

Child Fatality Reports

Child Fatality Reports

Child Fatalities in Washington State, 2008-2012

Any death of a child is tragic. A child's death is more troubling when that child has been served by the state social service system, and even more so when the death is due to child abuse or neglect at the hands of an adult entrusted to care for that child. We work hard to keep children safe and prevent even a single fatality.

We continue to learn from these tragedies by taking a critical look at our own work. From these evaluations, the Department of Social & Health Services has made and continues to make improvements, focusing on child safety while keeping families together whenever possible.

Child Protective Services becomes involved when the family is at the worst of times and in crisis. It is appalling that people do unspeakable things to children. Every day, social workers must use their best judgment based on results of risk assessment findings to evaluate parents' abilities to care for their child. Future behavior of parents harming their own children is not always predictable, and we are required to make reasonable efforts to keep the family together, unless the child is at risk of imminent harm.

Social & Health Services is focusing efforts on three areas across the Department, because the welfare of children crosses the spectrum of services the Department provides to families:

  • Quality: Children's Administration is now using a nationally recognized method of solution-based casework that has been successful in other states - a family-centered practice that builds on a family's strengths.
  • Consistency: The state's new child welfare information and case management system, FamLink, "flags" key risk factors. For example, when families have multiple referrals to the Department on child abuse or neglect, this history is considered in evaluating new referrals. In addition, FamLink promotes consistent practice for every child, every time, across the state.
  • Accountability: FamLink will track and measure performance and outcomes at every level of the organization. DSHS works with the Office of the Family and Children's Ombudsman to resolve issues as well as identify improvements to better serve children in the state. The Department and the Ombudsman recently signed an interagency agreement that strengthens the oversight and accountability of the Department. The Department agrees with the outcomes required by the Braam settlement, and is working to achieve the goals outlined in the settlement, such as monthly visits with children in care, and ensuring children receive health screenings soon after entering care.

Social & Health Services will work in partnership with DSHS advisory groups, tribes, the Ombudsman, the Braam Oversight Panel, legislators, and many others to help protect the children of the state using best practices and evaluation tools.

Former Governor Christine Gregoire had already made child protection and services a top priority of her administration and implemented reforms to improve the system.

  • Former Gov. Gregoire implemented a policy of faster Child Protective Services investigation times - 24 hours for imminent risk cases and 72 hours for all others. We have data indicating that these faster response times have resulted in reduced incidence of repeat abuse and neglect. The former Governor implemented this policy within the first year after taking office.
  • As a safety strategy, former Gov. Gregoire directed that social workers make face-to-face visits with all dependent children every 30 days - to see the children more frequently. This policy, phased in over time, took full effect September 2008. For this policy, the former Governor sought more funding for social workers from the Legislature so that caseloads could be decreased from 24:1 to 18:1 (which allows workers to realistically make more frequent visits). Caseload size has steadily decreased and is currently averaging 15:1 across all programs.
  • The former Governor worked with legislators to protect investments in child welfare services from budget cuts last year. Cuts were made to administrative staff only.

Social & Health Services relies on families and communities to partner with the Department to protect and care for the children of the state. If people suspect a child is being harmed, they should call 1-866-ENDHARM (1-866-363-4276) to report child abuse or neglect. For more information about reporting abuse or neglect of a child, visit the child abuse and neglect web site.

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