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History of Child Welfare: Part 2

In the first part I talked about the origins of child welfare in New York and then the way foster care was weaponized against native Americans and then later reformed by the Indian Child Welfare Act.

And today I thought I'd talk about how child welfare has developed more recently in Washington State.

After the Social Security Act in 1935 and the Indian Child Welfare Act in 1978, the federal government's framework for child welfare policy was largely established. There have been a few changes to it since then, but those to laws are still the bones of it.

But the work is done by states. In Washington State, we got our first CPS unit and mandatory reporting laws in 1969. That is, it became a requirement that people who work with children for a living (teachers, coaches, daycare staff) report to the government when they have reason to believe a child has been mistreated. And CPS or Child Protective Services, is the group of people who investigate such reports. So, 1969, we had a CPS unit for the first time.

And then in 1985 a bill was passed that forbade foster parents to spank children in foster care. Good law, important change. And when that change was made, we started offering training for foster parents for the first time. Before that it was kinda hit-or-miss. Sometimes you could find it, sometimes you couldn't. But after this monumental policy change, foster parent training became universally available.

And ironically, 2 years later we got our first formalized training for social workers. So, we were doing child welfare social work for formally training foster parents for 18 years before we had formal training for the staff, and we were formally training foster parents 2 years before social workers were getting formal training.

Things that make you go, huh.

In 2013, Washington State implemented a program called Extended Foster Care which does a great job caring for kids who would previously have "aged out" or turned 18 while in foster care and all of a sudden become ineligible for any support.

Extended Foster Care makes it possible for them to stay in foster care for as long as they stay in school.Great program and is actually much different than how many people think it works.

Many people ask me about aging out and inquire about why Skookum doesn't work on it, and the answer is . . . that it isn't how you've heard. Or how it was back in the day.

Kids who turn 18 don't get dumped out onto the street anymore. Some kids do choose to leave. And they're adults, so they are free to do that. But many of them come back.

Our friends over at Northwest Youth Services are actually doing some great work on teen and young adult homelessness. If that's an issue you care about, check them out.

Whenever I talk about the history of child welfare I'm always struck by how sloppy it is. It's failure forward, it's one imperfect solutions imperfectly applied that create unintended consequences which are addresses by more imperfect solutions and round and round we go.

But each step forward is improvement. We have come a really long way, and we still have work to do yet, but this is a hopeful trajectory.

Ray Deck IIIComment