Opinion editorial by Maureen Walsh: Family Assessment Response: government flexibility to address root of family challenges

by Rep. Maureen Walsh for the Prosser Record-Bulletin

 

“I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.” Everyone jokes about this overused phrase, as it represents skepticism of government overreaching in our lives. As a Republican, I too often see proposals and stories where our government has gone too far. It’s amazing sometimes to see how many bills we pass that are unnecessary or that must be passed simply to fix something government messed up in the first place. However, in the case of the recently-implemented Family Assessment Response, government workers have new flexibility to truly make a difference in the lives of struggling families.

Many people associate Child Protective Services (CPS) with taking children out of their home and away from parents. It may be because the child is being abused, or because there is some kind of danger or mistreatment in the home. The purpose of the program is to protect children, as it states. But often people associate CPS with a negative connotation. They think of a state agency which rushes in, asks few questions, and breaks apart families, sometimes forever.

Social workers have told us they feel their hands were tied – that they had no flexibility to do anything but separate children from parents no matter the circumstances. So the Legislature made some changes to the law. We adopted a law that’s been used nationally called the Family Assessment Response (FAR). This new method allows social workers to assess a family’s situation and determine what type of remedy could be employed that may entail a simple solution in that home to make the environment safer for all.

The focus continues to prioritize the long-term safety of the child and what’s best for them. However, sometimes there is perceived abuse or neglect of a child because the mom is going through depression, or maybe dad just lost his job, and now they have no car and it’s putting stress on the entire family. Sometimes the children hide their struggles at home and express them only at school so the parents have no idea what’s happening. These are often situations where we don’t have to break up the family, but instead, we can help bring the family together with other supports that address their needs. Social workers and caseworkers are trained to do this intervention work. Providing that flexibility to them to do their jobs in determining what is in the best interest of each individual family is essential.

Already, the results from implementing this new approach have shown great promise. In just two weeks of implementation of FAR, more than 50 percent of cases referred to the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) were solved using the FAR approach. This means children were kept safe, and more families were kept together. This is a win-win situation for all involved.

I’m looking forward to seeing more results from FAR, and I hope we can provide more flexibility in every part of our government.

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Rep. Maureen Walsh represents the 16th Legislative District, which includes most of Benton County and all of Walla Walla and Columbia counties. She serves as the ranking Republican on the House Early Learning and Human Services Committee. She can be reached at maureen.walsh@leg.wa.gov or by phone at (360) 786-7836. For more information and to sign up for her periodic e-mail updates, visit www.representativemaureenwalsh.com.