FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE - Jan. 5, 1996
Lowry announces DSHS changes
OLYMPIA - Building on earlier
changes, Gov. Mike Lowry today announced a plan to create an independent
Children's Ombudsman to monitor the state's child protection system
while shifting licensing and internal investigation functions
at the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS). The changes
are part of the governor's efforts to bring greater accountability
to the state's human services agency.
"We have studied this issue intensively over the last six
weeks and found that these adjustments will best fix the holes
in our system without negatively affecting services to families
and children," Lowry said.
The governor's plan accomplishes the following:
- Children's Ombudsman - The governor proposes legislation
to create an independent Children's Ombudsman to effectively review
state-provided children's services and respond to complaints about
the care of children under state custody. The ombudsman will report
directly to the governor and will issue annual reports on the
status of children's services and any recommendations for changes.
- Licensing - The governor will issue an executive order
to remove group home and foster care licensing functions from
the Division of Children and Family Services and create a separate
licensing division within DSHS. Currently, licensers and foster
care placement workers report to the same supervisors, raising
concerns that the demand for foster care space could lead to relaxed
oversight of facilities. Placing licensing and foster care in
separate divisions removes that possible conflict of interest.
- Office of Special Investigations - The governor will
issue an executive order to remove internal investigation duties
from DSHS' Office of Special Investigations (OSI). Because the
DSHS secretary oversees both the investigators and the employees
being investigated, there is an inherent conflict of interest
in this structure. OSI will continue to conduct welfare and vendor
fraud investigations, but will no longer look into matters involving
employee misconduct. The executive order directs the Washington
State Patrol to develop a standard for departmental investigations
and assign trained officers to conduct those at the request of
the DSHS secretary.
- Child welfare policies - The governor will issue an
executive order to codify several policy directives made by former
DSHS Secretary Jean Soliz. These policies will ensure that shared
decision-making is the rule regarding child welfare cases, that
at least one person in each DSHS region be assigned to monitor
children's progress in group homes, and that the agency must prepare
annual report cards showing how DSHS services are affecting children.
Lowry said these changes will build upon his supplemental budget
request for more workers and services to effectively tackle the
child protection problem in the state. Last month, the governor
formally requested 132 more children's services social workers,
22 substance abuse specialists and 23 group home and foster care
licensers. He also earmarked $2.6 million for substance abuse
assessment and treatment slots.
The accountability changes proposed today were recommended by
a roundtable of experts on child protection services. Newly appointed
DSHS Secretary Lyle Quasim said the changes are tightly aimed
at reducing the risk of agency error without making service delivery
"Family problems are complex and you can't address them too
simply," Quasim said. "Each client of DSHS uses an average
of three agency services, such as medical assistance, income assistance,
food stamps, or mental health services. The best solution is to
make a comprehensive evaluation and deliver these services together,
not to create more red tape."
# # #
For more information, contact the Governor's Communications Office