A Local Washington News Report Revealed Allegations of Misconduct in the Department of Children, Youth, and Families
The watchdog agency that oversees Washington’s foster care system is launching an investigation into the Washington State Department of Children, Youth, and Families’ allegedly punitive treatment of hard-to-place foster youth, especially after hours.
The probe comes days after KING 5 TV news aired an investigation that found that child protective services workers have for years conditioned the offer of basic necessities, such as a comfortable bed or a meal, on the youths’ compliance with instructions. Many of the youth have severe behavior problems, but professional standards require that basic, humane care be provided without exception.
The state’s inability to consistently shelter hard-to-place youth in licensed homes or facilities has been known for years. But the department has always said it does its best in tough circumstances. Youth only spend the night in a social worker’s car, for example, or sleep on a chair at a state office with no bedding or pillow when social workers have run out of better options, the department says.
But the news investigation spoke with former staffers with firsthand knowledge who maintained that workers sometimes acted punitively at the direction of supervisors, when, for example, a youth refused to stay at a licensed home or facility. In one case, a supervisor told a case worker to blast the air conditioning in a car on a cold night until a youth complied with requests.
DCYF Secretary Ross Hunter acknowledged the agency must improve its ability to place children in appropriate settings even on an emergency basis, but he denied that management orders or condones punishment. But one area administrator acknowledged in a staff meeting that she won’t give in to children’s “tantrums” just so they can “stay in a hotel or on a comfortable couch in the office,” King 5 reported.
Patrick Dowd, who runs the governor’s Office of the Family and Children’s Ombuds, said he found the reporting “credible” and has opened an investigation into reported staff misconduct that, if confirmed, was “deplorable, completely unacceptable” and “borderline abusive.”
The department’s oversight board will speak about the news investigation at its July meeting.