FIJ Quarterly - Fall 2022 Edition

background checks and relative placement. Private home studies have now become one of the most common experts our agency funds. But we can only support parents’ attorneys on background check problems who ask for technical assistance. I worry about parents’ attorneys’ gatekeeping; I worry about implicit racial bias and parents’ attorneys giving up on a prospective relative when DCYF objects. 2 What if the parent attorney does not fully understand the background check policy? What if they don’t ask for expert funds for private home studies and disregard the importance of a relative placement in the life of a child? I worry about gatekeeping because I was one of those attorneys. I remember telling a Black father that I needed another proposed relative to offer the court because his mother had a founded for CA/N, and that was a permanent disqualifier under DCYF’s policy. I wish I could go back and call myself on my own racism, encourage myself to get a private home study, share my client’s family with the judge, and demand that the court consider my client’s wishes. I wasn’t seeing this grandmother like I saw my own and was allowing an arbitrary policy to make it more likely a Black child would end up in stranger foster care. We Need Data to Address Unanswered Questions DCYF acknowledges that they need to be focused on racial equity and addressing disproportionality and disparate outcomes for BIPOC children and families. A number of the background check changes that are described in this piece were intended by DCYF to impact racial disproportionality. DCYF’s March 4, 2020 press release for the new Secretary’s List of Crimes and Negative Actions notes: “[t]he updated list has a less restrictive lens that creates opportunities for more individuals to have a second chance through individualized consideration. This reduces the number of automatic disqualifiers, reduces racial inequities and improves outcomes for children.” 3 When DCYF announced the new Certificate of Parental Improvement (CPI) Program, it stated “DCYF, in collaboration with stakeholders, aims to create a CPI process that:

• Reduces disproportional impacts of founded findings. • Meets the best interests of children, youth, and vulnerable adults in these programs. • Ensures consistency and recognizes unique circumstances and changed behavior.” 4 But I don’t know if the reforms to background checks are making a difference and addressing racial disproportionality. And I don’t know if DCYF knows either. At critical decisions, when relative steps forward, what are the checks to make sure they are truly being considered? If relatives are failing background checks, why are they failing? If they are passing background checks, what happens then—are they actually becoming the placement? Is DCYF conducting internal audits to mitigate bias at each decision point? Is racial disproportionality still showing up—has it increased? 5 As DCYF notes on its website, one of its priorities is to “[p]ay attention to data about outcomes for children, youth, and families consistently…Use both quantifiable data and individuals’ stories and experience to inform our actions and provide accountability.” We need DCYF to gather data, and we need them to make it publicly available. DCYF needs to ______________ 2 See Richardson, L. Song & Goff, Phillip Atiba. “Implicit Racial Bias in Public Defender Triage.” The Yale Law Journal, vol.122 no.1, 2012, pp.2626-2649, https:// Assessed 31 August 2022. 3 DCYF Releases Revised Secretary’s List . Washington State Department of Children, Youth & Families. 4 March 2020, secretarys-list. Accessed 31 August 2022. 4 DCYF Program Addresses Disproportionality . Washington State Department of Children, Youth & Families. 27 January 2021, https://content.govdelivery. com/accounts/WADEL/bulletins/2bd42a4. Accessed 31 August 2022. 5 For example, see OJJDP’s website noting that while youth arrests have declined for all race groups, the disparity in arrest rates between white youth and Black Youth (as well as Indigenous Youth) has increased in recent years. OJJDP Statistical Briefing Book: Racial and Ethnic Fairness . U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. 24 June 2022, qa11502.asp?qaDate=2020. Accessed 31 August 2022.

set goals and have a plan for addressing where racial disproportionality persists. 6 We Need a Federal Fix The federal criminal disqualifier list is another harm caused by ASFA. Allowing states to add on lesser crimes and CA/N history, potentially as a permanent disqualifier, creates additional layers of harm. I know that people can learn from past mistakes, and I know that people can age out of crime. We need a system that takes this into account. In the name of child

safety, we are harming children through this background process that was federally created, especially BIPOC children. It needs to stop. ______________ 6 Racial Equity, Diversity and Inclusion . Washington State Department of Children, Youth & Families. https://www. Accessed 31 August 2022. _________________________ Amelia S. Watson is the Parents Representation Program Co-Supervising Attorney at the Washington State Office of Public Defense.

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48 | FIJ Quarterly | Fall 2022

FIJ Quarterly | Fall 2022 | 49

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