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Washington Lawmakers move to make it easier to remove children from drug-addicted parents

(The Center Square) – “Washington children are dying or being seriously injured due to fentanyl exposure or ingestion of other illicit drugs.”

That statement from state Rep. Travis Couture R-Allyn, is based on a recent report from the state Office of the Family and Children’s Ombuds. The group reviews cases of child death and injury for children under state supervision. The report found 85 child deaths and 62 near fatalities involving accidental ingestion or overdose.

In a November response to the ombuds report, Department of Children, Youth and Families Secretary Ross Hunter wrote, “One of DCYF’s goals has been to reduce the number of children in out-of-home care. That is the goal of the Keeping Families Together Act. Since its implementation last July, we have seen a 24.6% reduction in the number of children and youth entering care statewide.”

Many of the young victims were children already under state supervision, according to Couture.

“We have to get it right this session and it has to be a bullseye,” he said.

Couture said other variations of a fix introduced this session don’t go far enough.

“We actually have to remove kids from the home, and not just for fentanyl, but for meth, heroin and other hard drugs,” he said.

Couture sights a couple of horrific cases from 2023, including a 1-year-old girl in Snohomish County who died of fentanyl poisoning in an Everett hotel room after being left in the care of her mother despite fierce opposition from the little girl’s grandmother. Also, in 2023 a Tacoma mother brutally tortured and murdered her 3-year-old son while abusing meth while under CPS supervision.

Those incidents motivated Couture to sponsor House Bill 2233  that would do the following:

  • Require immediate removal of children from caretakers using illegal substances, including fentanyl, by classifying the presence of those drugs as “imminent harm”;
  • Create additional training and fentanyl-specific risk assessment tools for caseworkers investigating abuse; and
  • Provide caseworkers with fentanyl test-strips to confirm the presence of fentanyl in the home.

The Center Square reached out to DCYF for comment on the proposed legislation, and received the following statement: “This bill runs counter to our commitment to safely reduce the number of children and youth in out of home care. Children should not be removed from the home just because a parent has a substance use disorder or has used illicit drugs.  Fentanyl is extremely dangerous for young children. But children should only be removed if a parent’s use of fentanyl is creating a risk that the child may be exposed to this extremely dangerous drug.”

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