10-21-2016  7:56 am      •     
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OLYMPIA—Washington's child welfare agency has asked Gov. Christine Gregoire for nearly $20 million to improve foster care, adoption support and other services.

The Children's Administration's request comes as it is struggling to rein in its finances, improve the state's foster care program and respond better to reports of abuse.

Over the past several months, the administration has laid off staff, cut services deemed nonessential, postponed psychological evaluations for some children and stopped giving clothing vouchers to foster parents.

Speaking on Friday to several groups that work with troubled children, Cheryl Stephani, head of the Children's Administration, insisted the agency is moving in the right direction.

"We know we need to get better at working with our providers, our foster parents. We need to create an organization that lives the values it has," she said. "Culture change is something that takes time, and it takes effort."

Stephani became the agency's director in May, replacing Uma Ahluwalia, who was forced out after budget problems and several high-profile child deaths.

Skeptics question whether more money will solve the agency's problems.

"We've been waiting for the Children's Administration to ask for more funding every month. But it has to do with leadership, it has to do with being enlightened and creative," said Daniele Baxter, president of the Foster Parent Association of Washington. "We have to work together to do this. Any amount of money is not going to work if we don't have mutual respect."

The administration's fiscal woes, including a $12 million cost overrun, came to light last spring, after a report criticized the agency for failing to respond to warning signs in the case of two boys who starved to death.

Gregoire, a Democrat, used a line-item veto in the state budget bill earlier this year to make $16 million available to the Children's Administration. By the end of the fiscal year in July, the agency had spent $3.5 million of that money.

Stan Marshburn, chief financial officer for the Department of Social and Health Services, said the Children's Administration has asked the governor to provide an extra $19.8 million in her supplemental budget this year.The governor is scheduled to release her proposed budget within two weeks. It will be up to the Legislature to approve any changes to the current biennial budget.

—  The Associated Press


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