Blue Ribbon Commission on Children and Families

Final Report

The Commission produced its final report on November 8, 2016:

About the Blue Ribbon Commission

On Feb. 18, 2016, Gov. Inslee issued an executive order establishing the Washington State Blue Ribbon Commission on Delivery of Services to Children and Families. His executive order directs the Commission to recommend the organizational structure for a new department focused solely on children and families.

For many years the state has had a Children’s Administration, and Economic Services Administration, a Juvenile Rehabilitation Administration, a Behavioral Health Administration and other divisions within the state’s largest agency: the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS). DSHS has approximately 17,500 staff, a budget of $14 billion dollars per biennium and is responsible for managing everything from state psychiatric hospitals to long-term care.  The state also funds programs for children and families in a number of other agencies across state government and in a wide-range of community-based programs. 

The purpose of creating this new agency is to have a cabinet-level department that will align state policies across agencies and have accountability for better using the state’s resources to improve the lives of children and families. This new agency will ensure there is a focus on the well-being of children and reduce barriers to improving services so that better outcomes can be achieved. Governor Inslee has tasked the Commission with creating a blueprint for the new agency, including a clear mission and vision, the design of the agency structure, and a funding and implementation plan.

A separate department of children and families has been successfully implemented across the country in other states including Indiana, New Jersey, New York City, Tennessee, Georgia, and Wisconsin. It has been studied extensively in Washington, and introduced legislatively multiple times. The time has come to move forward with a new department to better meet the needs of our state’s children and families.

The commission's work resulted in the creation of the Washington State Department of Children, Youth, and Families

Guiding principles for the new department

In considering the mission, vision and structure for this new agency, the Commission began its work by developing guiding principles for the new department. Among the priorities for the new department must be supporting and strengthening families before crises occur, and leveraging every contact as an opportunity to improve the course of a child’s life and help to minimize further system-involvement or harm.

  • Services should be centered on children meeting key milestones of healthy development, with an emphasis on early brain development and school success.
  • Children and families furthest from opportunity, and those at greatest risk of negative outcomes should be prioritized to help them address the additional barriers they face.
  • Services must be provided in a way that best serve the needs of the family and child, centered on the “whole person” approach of health and well-being, and not be fragmented or disjointed, leaving it up to the family to navigate complicated systems with different rules and multiple bureaucracies.
  • The services must be science-based, regularly evaluated to make sure they are achieving outcomes, and use shared data across programs in order to assure that children and families are supported with most effective interventions available.
  • The agency’s work will recognize that improved well-being relies on stronger connections between families and communities, and must be based on equitable access, support and outcomes for children and families of all races, ethnicities and cultures.

The opportunity

The Commission’s work offers a unique opportunity to focus on improving the well-being of Washington’s children and families, especially our most vulnerable.  Thousands of families across the state struggle with poverty, mental health and substance abuse issues, child abuse and neglect, domestic violence, homelessness, historic or cultural inequity as well as other challenges. Children exposed to these circumstances often experience severe trauma and hardship, impacting their ability to succeed in school and beyond. 

Helping more children succeed in school and in life is our goal. Strategies to provide early intervention and support and reduce the chances of harm or further harm, as well as to effectively treat children who have experienced adversity; this will be the work of the new Department of Children, Youth, and Families. 


See list of members

  • Member list and biographies (PDF)
  • Judge Anne Levinson, (Ret.), Co-chair
  • Rep. Ruth Kagi, Co-Chair
  • Rep. Maureen Walsh
  • Sen. Jeannie Darneille
  • Sen. Judy Warnick
  • Pat Lashway, Department of Social and Health Services
  • Ross Hunter, Department of Early Learning
  • Jennifer Strus, Children's Administration
  • Patrick Dowd, Office of the Family and Children's Ombuds
  • Judge Kitty-Ann van Doornick, Superior Court Judge
  • Barbara Carr, Juvenile Court Administrator
  • Liz Mueller, Tribal Representative
  • Mel Tonasket, Tribal Representative
  • Bryan Samuels, Child Welfare Expert
  • Lawrence Berger, Economic Issues Expert
  • Micah Kurtz, Washington Federation of State Employees

Articles and reports on better outcomes for children

Commission meetings

The links below contain 2016 meeting agendas and materials as well as presentations offered by content experts.

November 8

October 11

September 13

August 9

July 12

June 14

May 10