10-21-2016  4:51 pm      •     
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SEATTLE—State officials, citing worries about safety, are backing away from a state program in King County aimed at helping Black children and families in the child welfare system.

Last month the state halted referrals of new child abuse complaints to the Office of African American Children's Services, and officials with the state Department of Social and Health Services are contemplating an end for the program, a local paper reported Monday.

Chief among their concerns was what they termed improper handling of many cases. Jackie Buchanan, the state child welfare administrator in charge of King County, said she had to stop sending new cases to the program "before we did have some tragedy happen."

"I've been in social work long enough to know when you start feeling yourself on the verge of a disaster," Buchanan said.

Studies show that more Black children end up in foster care and languish there longer than other kids, and the office was set up to address that problem.

Concern was raised after a review indicated serious lapses in the office's handling of child-abusecomplaints, Buchanan said. The office will continue to handle its current caseload of families but will no longer be in charge of most new investigations.

The newspaper cited a letter summarizing the program's problems that said workers failed to perform proper investigations before deciding where children should be placed, completed safety assessments before interviewing the children and neglected to check the background of some caregivers.

State officials decided to act immediately even though some investigations were handled properly, said Carol Felton, a special assistant in the Children's Administration assigned to the matter.

James Kelly, president of theUrbanLeagueof Metropolitan Seattle, said problems such as low staffing levels should have been handled better by state officials.

"The Department (of Social and Health Services) has to take a lot of responsibility for that," Kelly said. "You just can't blame the unit."

— The Associated Press

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