Pay It Forward
On January 30, 2019, Network Representatives at The Mockingbird Society were pleased to meet with Ross Hunter, Secretary of the Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF). We discussed Mockingbird’s 2019 legislative agenda, which includes topics ranging from expanding MOCKINGBIRD FAMILY™ to ending the practice of jailing youth for non-criminal behaviors. We also talked about Sec. Hunter’s ongoing commitment to transforming the child welfare system.
After graduating from Yale in 1983 Sec. Hunter went to work for Microsoft, where he stayed for almost 20 years until deciding he wanted to do something he believed made a difference. Before beginning his current role in August of 2017, Sec. Hunter served as State Representative for the 48th District of Washington from 2003-2015. Sec. Hunter chaired the Appropriations committee from 2010 through 2015.
When asked about his approach to his new role, Sec. Hunter emphasized he doesn’t know everything, and he still has lots to learn. He knows he doesn’t have all the answers and is committed to including youth voice. He knows the voice of lived experience is very important in the Department’s focus on improving outcomes for all youth
Sec. Hunter knows that transforming foster care is complex. He is working to remove barriers to becoming a licensed care provider. Sec. Hunter wants to streamline the process of recruiting licensed care givers. One example is reevaluating offenses that would make any adult automatically ineligible to be a foster parent.During our conversation, we asked Sec. Hunter about the practice of jailing youth for non-criminal behaviors. Sec. Hunter “absolutely agrees we shouldn’t put youth in detention.” Sec. Hunter believes that youth who have been jailed for valid court orders (VCOs) are the victims and shouldn’t be treated like criminals. By being detained instead of having supportive conversations about why the youth left a placement, skipped school or stayed out past curfew, youth experience additional trauma. These are non-violent behaviors that pose no threat to public safety. Sec. Hunter believes there are steps that must come first, starting with asking the youth what they are running from and where they are running to. Sec. Hunter believes “We rely on cops too much to pick up youth…Once police get involved it’s out of our hands. Police shouldn’t be the first option.” Both the Mockingbird Society and Sec. Hunter support ending the use of VCOs and want to build a system that supports youth using trauma-informed processes that address root causes and promote safety and well-being.
Sec. Hunter has seen firsthand the positive impact of a Mockingbird Family HUB home. Sec. Hunter envisions moving the state away from group homes completely, and into more family- and community-based care. It’s all about creating community supports to replace the isolation so many foster youth and parents often feel in the current failing system. Sec. Hunter fully supports the expansion of the MOCKINGBIRD FAMILY™ and endorses the Governor’s budget which includes funding for up to 18 Constellations.
The Mockingbird Society looks forward to continuing to work with Sec. Ross Hunter and DCYF to transform the foster care system and end youth homelessness. We are thankful for his partnership and advocacy!