Governor Gary Locke’s Remarks
Washington Permanency Summit
February 11, 2004
Good morning. I am honored to be here.
I want to begin by recognizing the Families for Kids Partnership for nine years of dedication, passion, creative collaboration, and hard work in reforming our state’s child welfare system. On behalf of the people—and the children—of Washington, thank you.
Five years ago I introduced the Permanency Framework. The Framework was a long-term, five-year plan for permanent placement of children with families. We set six strategic goals:
· Expediting permanence for children
· Recruiting and retaining foster and adoptive families
· Emphasizing kinship
· Working effectively with very young children
· Promoting permanency options for adolescents
· Involving community
Together, we’ve spent the past five years pursuing these goals. We’ve worked in partnership, bringing together public and private agencies, the judicial system, tribal organizations, legislators, families, and business leaders. We’ve worked to try to give every child in the system a chance to say, “I’m home. I belong here.”
Standing here, five years later, I am very proud of all that we have accomplished. The statistics tell a compelling story:
· The number of children adopted out of the system has almost tripled since the early nineties. More than 1,000 children were adopted per year for the past 4 years, with 1,204 in Fiscal Year 2003.
· The time children spent from placement in foster care to adoption decreased from 46 months in 1996 to 37 months in 2002
· 84% of sibling groups were adopted into the same family over the past 5 years
· In 2003, 85% Of the children who went to their families, 85% of those reunifications were within 12 months—nearly 10% better than the federal standard
· One third of children in care are with relatives
· And for children entering the system for the first time in 2002, 82% had just 1-2 placements in their first year
· And behind me, on the curtain, there are 7200 lights. One light for every child who went home from the child welfare system last year. These kids were reunited with their families, live permanently with relatives, have guardians, or were adopted. 7200 kids.
And if we add up the number of children who have permanent families since we started working on the Permanency Framework five years ago, we’d be looking at 38,000 lights. 38,000 children in families to call their own. 38,000 kids who have real childhoods now, thanks to the work of this partnership.
Everyone in this room deserves credit for this progress—please give yourselves a hand. [lead applause]
Our accomplishments reflect the comprehensive efforts of many partners.
We’ve made good progress at the state government level over the past several years. Washington state is recognized across the nation as a leader in child welfare. We allocated millions of dollars in 1997 to create the Foster Care Assessment Program. We also created the Passport Program that year. This program creates a concise record of each foster child's current medical, dental, behavioral, psychological, and educational status.
Begun in 2000, the legislature expanded the Safe Babies, Safe Moms program which seeks to improve the health and welfare of substance-abusing mothers and their young children by helping them make major life changes
Since 2000, the Governor’s Cup Golf Tournament has raised $900,000 for the Governor’s Foster Kid Scholarship program. Last year we gave four-year scholarships to 24 students. I’ve never met a more inspiring and motivated group of young people. As I told those kids, I wish that we could provide financial aid to all students leaving foster care and going out into the world. I’ll keep working hard on our Governor’s Cup scholarships until we get there.
Our judicial system has also been a vital contributor in the effort to improve permanent placement of children as well. Our courts have done a great job of assessing ways to reduce bottlenecks so we can move kids to permanence. New Appellate Court rules expedite Termination of Parent Rights appeals. We’re better preparing our judges for these cases through the Judicial Leadership curriculum and a judicial “benchbook” for juvenile court. Family Drug Treatment Courts have been started in many jurisdictions. These courts are a friendlier, more effective way of working with families.
Public and private agency social workers have been a vital contributor to permanency for children. Concurrent planning is in our law and in use across the state. Permanency practices have strengthened every region through family group conferences, prognostic staffings, and early permanency staffings. Placement agencies have done a terrific job finding homes for harder to place children.
The Children’s Administration now also has a policy to support permanency-planning with unified home studies. Developing the policy involved years of effort and stress, and many deserve credit for staying the course. Nancy Zahn was instrumental in this effort, and we will miss her when she retires next month. We’re also indebted to Uma Ahluwalia, who has put this practice into policy. We are very fortunate to have Uma here in Washington.
Ultimately, of course, our progress depends on the dedication and hard work of foster parents, relative caregivers and adoptive parents. We’re seeing trends in our state that are truly heartening. Relatives are being identified earlier and stepping forward more frequently. We are doing a better job of supporting them. Foster parents are taking more of the harder to place children. Without these foster parents and relatives, there would be no foster care system.
Despite the great progress, we continue to face challenges. Racial disproportionality continues. African American and Native American children are much more likely to come into foster care. They are much more likely to stay in care longer. This partnership has done a good job of focusing on ways to reduce disproportionality in the system. We must continue to make this a high priority
We’ve also battled tough economic times, and we’ve had to live within our means. The budget cuts have been painful. The needs are great in many areas, and we know we must do more.
Despite tough budget times, the Families for Kids project has shown that we can still accomplish our goals through collaboration. This cross-systems, public-private-tribal partnership is powerful proof that the sum can be greater than the parts. And it’s the passion and commitment of people like you that give this partnership life and make it effective.
It is critically important that we press on. We must continue to work toward our vision of a family for every child.
We must never let anyone forget that our children only get one childhood. All deserve to spend it in a family of their own. A place where, without words, the heart simply knows, “I’m home. I belong here.”
Thank you for your outstanding efforts, congratulations on the important progress we’ve made together, and keep up the good work!