Update on nondiscrimination protections for children and youth in Washington

On February 2nd I wrote about the former president’s HHS agency leaders filing a rule that removed protections for LGBTQ children and youth and how Washington was not affected, as we had strong state protections. The order has now been blocked by both the Biden administration and the courts.

From the American Public Human Services organization (APHSA.ORG)

HHS Postpones Regulation Repealing Nondiscrimination Protections

In response to a lawsuit filed by a foster youth organization and LGBTQ+ advocacy groups, a court order issued to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) immediately postponed the effective date of the rule. The rule would have eliminated protections preventing service providers from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, and other characteristics when providing HHS grant-funded services. The Biden Administration has stated that the Trump-era policy is now under review. President Biden issued an executive order on January 20 to extend existing federal nondiscrimination protections to LGBTQ+ people.

View Court Order
Read More on LGBTQ+ Executive Order

Every Silver Lining Has a Cloud

I get regular emails from the Children’s Bureau with a collection of news clips about child welfare across the country. Some are helpful, some random, some totally uninteresting. At the top of the email today is a story out of Florida about the difficulty people have in adopting newborns.  (Full disclosure – I didn’t watch the video.)

FL: Hope and frustration: For families looking to adopt newborns, the journey isn’t easy (Includes video)
Pensacola News Journal – February 15, 2021
The Pentons are one of thousands of U.S. families who have an adoptive child — at least one out of every 25 families with children have an adopted child, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. But adoption attorneys and groups say that over the past several years, adoptions — especially of newborns — have been increasingly difficult to facilitate.
https://www.pnj.com/story/news/2021/02/15/why-families-seeking-adoptions-struggling-find-newborns/6705998002/  

They describe lots of anecdotal reasons that might make it harder to adopt a newborn baby. It’s heartbreaking that people who want to be parents and cannot struggle to find children to adopt. While I feel for these families, the world is probably a lot better off if fewer teens become pregnant in an unplanned way. The chart above is one of the incredible good news stories in social services. It shows the teen pregnancy rate from 2007 to 2016. I got it from KIDS COUNT. I can’t get a longer time period from this chart than the ten years you see here, but this is not a new trend – teen pregnancies have been declining since the 80s and the widespread availability of birth control.

The rate of teen pregnancy (24 out of every 1000 girls) is less than half of what it was 10 years before. The article I linked to just goes to show that every silver lining has a cloud.

WA Won’t Discriminate

Right before the change in administration earlier this month the federal Health and Human Services agency repealed a rule that prohibited government contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, (SOGIE) or on religion. Washington does not allow this kind of discrimination today, and won’t allow it in the future.

The rule changes say that states can allow private agencies that use federal and state taxpayer dollars to discriminate against potential foster families based on a parent’s sexual orientation or gender identity and expression or their religion. A state could allow an agency to serve only members of a single religion, or to not serve LGBTQ+ couples.

The rules would also allow states to let providers discriminate against LGBTQ+ youth by refusing them services or kicking them out of a homeless shelter, or to allow foster parents to kick out an LGBTQ+ child or youth.

The terrible stories we hear from young people who were kicked out of the house when they came out and their struggles to survive as a person experiencing homelessness, let alone their struggles to get an education, training for gainful employment, housing, or any of the other things we take for granted for our own children are heartbreaking, and often result in young adults who face serious challenges.

We would not allow a foster family to physically abuse a child, even if their religion condoned the behavior. Why would we allow them to inflict even more grievous emotional and psychological harm?

Washington requires potential foster parents to accept ALL children and youth for who they are. We do not grant licenses to families that are unwilling to be accepting of a child or youth who explores their sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression and comes out while in their care. The odds are too big to allow this to happen – multiple credible studies say that one in every three or four children in foster care may identify as LGBTQ+, and the rejection they would experience from what might be the first stable home they’ve ever had would be devastating.

As an agency, we already struggle to recruit families who are willing to open their homes to teens. Our focus is to increase our capacity to provide welcoming and affirming homes to ALL of the children and youth we serve. The last thing we want to do is place additional barriers in front of willing, loving families. In the same way we support LGBTQ+ children and youth, we also support same sex couples who want to be foster parents. Can you imagine going to an agency to apply to be a foster parent, only to be told that you can’t care for a child because of the adult you love?

The new Biden administration should repeal these changes forthwith. Here in our Washington we will continue to prohibit this kind of discrimination regardless of what happens in the other Washington.

The Murder of George Floyd

I sent the following message out to DCYF staff earlier this week. Our equity and diversity team helped me avoid blind spots I may have, but any errors are mine. We have work to do as an agency and as a society.

I want to begin by acknowledging the range of emotions you may be feeling, including anger, confusion, grief, disbelief, and numbness evoked by recent events. By now we’ve all seen the brutal murder of George Floyd by white police officers in Minneapolis, officers who are supposed to ‘serve and protect” the community. We’ve also experienced the painful loss of Ahmaud Arbery, Breona Taylor, and far too many Black lives, just in the past few months.

George Floyd was somebody’s beloved father, brother, and son. A byproduct of our toxic culture and environment of racism and white supremacy is dehumanization and insensitivity towards the suffering of Black bodies. Until we all feel the pain of these losses and our systems respond accordingly with just policies and practices that protect the health and well-being of all communities, we communicate resoundingly that Black lives matter less. 

This brutality is deeply rooted in American history and culture. Minneapolis City Council Vice President, Andrea Jenkins said it perfectly when she declared racism as a public health emergency:

“Until we name this virus, the disease that has infected America for the past 400 years, we will never, ever resolve this issue. To those who say bringing up racism is racist in and of itself, I say to you, if you don’t call cancer what it is, you can never cure that disease.”

I’m a living legacy and beneficiary of the amount of resources America has put into curing cancer. The disease of racism harms us all, and it requires a deeper, stronger response. Nobody loses power if cancer is cured, but unfortunately that’s not the case with racism.  Digging it out, root and branch, will require facing our complicity in the creating the current racialized outcomes, and a willingness to put in the personal and collective work to make change happen.

Our agency, as with many public institutions, has a long way to go to live into our commitment to advance racial equity and social justice.

  • Black children are expelled from pre-k at rates vastly exceeding their white counterparts. This is 3 and 4 year olds.
  • Racial disparities get worse at almost every level of the child welfare system, with Black and Indigenous children being removed from their families at vastly higher rates than their white counterparts.
  • Youth of color are vastly over-represented in our JR facilities.

We have to call this problem out and focus on our everyday actions that perpetuate it. We are starting with a shared  framework and approach to taking responsibility for eliminating racial and ethnic disparities and disproportionate impacts on the Black, Indigenous and People of Color we serve. We are also dedicating significant attention to HOW we go about our work, eliminating the implicit bias that seeps into everything we do.

Many of us are struggling with how to respond to the murder of Mr. Floyd. I can’t even imagine how our Black community members must be feeling in this moment. I can only urge two threads for everyone – caring for the world and caring for yourself.

Only when we stand with one another and engage in this uncomfortable, but necessary work, can we all live in an equitable community where all children, youth, and families are thriving. DCYF will be organizing virtual spaces for you to connect and reflect with one another in the coming days. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with a few resources that I hope will help you with taking care of yourself, your own learning journey, or finding ways to take action.

Take Me Home: Protecting America’s Vulnerable Children and Families

Take Me Home: Protecting America's Vulnerable Children and FamiliesTake Me Home: Protecting America’s Vulnerable Children and Families by Jill Duerr Berrick
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I thought this was super-interesting. Her view is that while it makes some sense to invest resources in “upstream prevention,” we can’t fix the entire problem that way and will still need a robust child welfare system. Consequently the upstream investments should not take resources from current child welfare needs, and we should be very intentional about how we approach that project. She goes on to lay out clear and cogent reasons and structure for supporting families and children in crisis. She makes a strong case children need to have permanent homes with stability.

She’s got a well-reasoned argument and it gave me a good perspective on the challenges facing social workers who work with challenging families and try to protect some of our most vulnerable children.

This was totally worth reading, though somewhat depressing.

Children’s Alliance Hiring Early Learning Policy Staff

I just got the following mail from Jon Gould, the Deputy Director at the Children’s Alliance about positions there.

Children’s Alliance is hiring an Early Learning Policy Director and a Pre-K Policy Associate. Our early learning policy advocacy focuses on expanding access to high-quality, affordable, culturally responsive early learning and care for Washington’s youngest kids, as a key strategy to close the opportunity gap facing children in low-income families and children of color.

  • The Early Learning Policy Director leads the organization’s public policy advocacy related to early learning. The position reports to the Deputy Director.
  • The Pre-K Policy Associate will focus on growing and improving the state’s Early Childhood Education and Assistance program. This is a new position.

Both positions are full time at 37.5 hours a week.

Check out our jobs page for more information on both positions and how to apply. 

Town Hall Meetings Are Hard – But Politicians Should Do Them

In my 13 years in the Legislature I probably hosted over a hundred town hall meetings all over the 48th district. Sometimes they were cavernously empty. Sometimes they were like what former Rep. Israel describes below – raucous. Sometimes this was organic, like the time my Republican seatmate Rodney Tom and I hosted a joint appearance during the recounts of the hotly contested 2004 gubernatorial election. Sometimes they were more like AstroTurf, with organized groups of constituents (or non-constituents) trying to turn the meeting into a rally for whatever point they were trying to make.

An angry constituent at a town hall meeting held by Steve Israel in 2009. Credit Pablo Corradi/Newsday

New York Times: My Night in Town Hall Hell By STEVE ISRAEL

I loved them either way. You got to hear what people cared about, and they got to see if you were listening. They also got to see if you had done any of the actual work of representing the district. Did you understand the issue? Had you thought about it enough to have an opinion about what ought to happen? Could you talk cogently about both sides of an issue and explain how you got to your position?

Town Hall meetings are a staple of American democracy for just that reason. You represent people. They have a right to tell you what they think, even, or perhaps especially if you don’t agree with them. Sometimes they just want to yell at you. I never felt physically threatened.

My favorite was one I didn’t even attend. I watched Congressman Brian Baird (on TVW) stand on a stage in front of hundreds of angry constituents who were upset about his vote on one of our interminable wars in the middle east or Afghanistan. He had a position, and the people in the crowd didn’t like it. He took questions for hours until the crowd ran out of talk. It was hard. I didn’t agree with him either, but I respected the hell out of him for standing up for what he thought was the right decision.

Doing staged events like the telephone town halls isn’t the same. We did those sometime. They reach more people. We would get thousands listening in. After the first one we did I remember thinking how easy the questions had been and saying something to the staff who were handling the calls. The person running it looked at me like I was out of touch and told me she had screened out the “frequent flyers” with crazy questions. It’s easy to do – there are more questions than there is time and nobody can tell you’re doing it. We tried to be more balanced in the questions we took in later ones, but I’d be astounded if politicians do that in general.

Town hall meetings are important. Talking to, and with your representatives at all levels of government about what you want is the only way you’re going to get anything close to it.

Mama Yaya meets Governor Inslee and Results Washington

Amelia Cruz, the owner and operator of Mama Yaya’s Child Care in Lacey was our guest at the Results Washington meeting yesterday. Results Washington is responsible for implementing Governor Inslee’s focus on lean management and continuous improvement. We review progress on key indicators of progress in outcomes. In this specific case we were looking at indicator 1.1b – “1.1.b  Increase number of early learning providers who achieve level 3 or above in Early Achievers (quality rating and improvement system) from December 2013 baseline of 253 programs to 1,471 programs by December 2018.”

This kind of meeting can be like watching paint dry, but it’s way more fun when we have providers like Amelia Cruz. She talked about how Early Achievers has improved her practice with the kids, and how she’s doing so much more than just feeding and making sure they’re safe now.

Mama Yaya Child Care is rated at level 3, which shows that she’s achieved our base level of quality. It’s a great recognition of the work she’s put in to help prepare a generation of kids to succeed in Kindergarten.

The actual indicator we’re measuring is the number of providers who have reached a level 3 or higher by 2018. The (graphically terrible) chart above shows our progress on this front – we are will on our way to meeting the goal. You can see the real version on the Results Washington website.

Censorship for Preschoolers?

I got a letter last week from an organization opposed to censorship. They were concerned about some language in one part of our “Early Achievers” rating system for childcare quality that has led some providers to believe that we will deduct points from their score if they have the “wrong” books on their shelves. The standard in question says “books that glorify violence in any way or show frightening images are not considered to be appropriate.” The letter raised concerns that “Where the Wild Things Are” by Maurice Sendak would be one of the “wrong” books.

This standard is part of a national set of standards called the “Environmental Rating Scale” that is one of the two big parts of “Early Achievers,” Washington’s award-winning quality rating and improvement system. I’m not sure what the people at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (the authors of ERS) are thinking that language means, but it most certainly does not mean that any of Maurice Sendak’s books are broadly inappropriate for children. As with all literature, teachers should make sure that kids are ready for what they’re reading, but DEL is not in the business of censorship today, nor will it be in that business tomorrow. We can’t change the text in the ERS, but we are certainly not enforcing anything like this.

“Where the Wild Things Are” was my absolute favorite book as a child. My mother tells me that she thinks it was because I was something of wild thing myself, but that was a long time ago. I’ve included a link to the book at the King County Library so providers can check out a copy and read it to their kids. They have 132 copies, so it seems like it’s somewhat popular. 🙂

There may be confusion in the field about how to interpret the standard and the Department will make significant efforts to ensure that providers and teachers know that having only insipid books is mind-numbing for both children and adults. We’re thinking about a regular newsletter for providers with DEL staff favorite book picks. When I asked the Early Achievers staff about this they listed off their favorites, and there were certainly frightening images in most of them.

Reminder: SR 520 highway closes this weekend from 11 p.m. Friday, Aug. 14, to noon Sunday, Aug. 16

_MG_0405From 11 p.m. Friday, Aug. 14, to noon Sunday, Aug. 16, crews will close all lanes and ramps of SR 520 between 92nd Avenue Northeast and Montlake Boulevard. The westbound SR 520 transit lane between 84th Avenue Northeast and Evergreen Point Road will be closed from 11 p.m. Friday, Aug. 14, to 5 a.m. Monday, Aug. 17. Transit riders should check Metro rider alerts for the most up-to-date information on where to catch their bus this weekend. During this closure, WSDOT crews will perform annual maintenance activities on the existing bridge including testing of the existing drawspan.

We encourage travelers to plan ahead during a busy Seattle summer weekend of sporting events and festivals. When SR 520 is closed, use alternative options like I-90, transit and carpools, as needed. To see a list of the major events and closures in the region in August, check out WSDOT’s interactive closure and event calendar.