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Inside Olympia — Ross Hunter, Dept of Children Youth and Families

Inside Olympia – Ross Hunter, WA Dept of Children Youth and Families

Host Austin Jenkins spends the full hour with Ross Hunter, secretary of Washington’s Department of Children, Youth and Families.

DCYF, as it is known in state government, includes the Juvenile Rehabilitation Administration, which operates Green Hill School, Echo Glen and facilities. The department also oversees child welfare in the state, as well as early learning and child care. 

The department has come under scrutiny for incidents involving contraband and violence at Green Hill School, and escapes from Echo Glen. Hunter acknowledges mistakes and discusses security improvements being undertaken at both facilities. He also points to major changes in population at the facilities, largely the result of legislation that upped the age of persons held in juvenile facilities from 18 to 25 years old.

In the area of child welfare, DCYF has been criticized for cases in which children were not removed from homes and later suffered harm or death. Hunter says his caseworkers have “the toughest job in state government,” in making decisions whether to remove kids from homes. Hunter’s focus has been on lowering the number of kids removed, saying that removal in itself is harmful, causing trauma to children. He counts as success a much lower number of children housed in hotels or out of state, a practice which attracted much criticism in previous years. 

Both in juvenile correctional facilities and in child welfare, according to Hunter, fentanyl is a game-changer. It makes DCYF’s mission of keeping kids safe much more difficult.

Also discussed: The 2023 effort by the union representing DCYF workers to oust Hunter as the department’s secretary. Hunter says he is rebuilding his relationship with the union, citing efforts to increase staffing levels and worker pay.