child welfare

Concrete Goods Solidifying Futures

A new program is underway at the Family Impact Network that supplies families in need with safety and health products. It will particularly focus on expanding accessibility of these goods to the more rural areas of eastern Washington, providing support to families with little available nearby.

The project is being funded through some extra unallocated funding from FAR (Family Assessment Response). Some of these goods are purchased directly from the manufacturer, others are purchased through distributors like Amazon or Home Depot. By purchasing these concrete goods in bulk and then distributing as needed, FIN receives the best value on goods. This allows the program to distribute more of these products for cheaper.

Some of the most needed products include safety items for families with young children such as car seats, safety gates and child-proofing supplies. Additionally, the program constructs packs of concrete goods that include personal hygiene and menstruation products. There are options for packs of cleaning supplies and vacuums to help families maintain a clean home as well.


The project started in July, and the product packs became available at all five locations in Spokane, Colville, Colfax, Newport and Moses Lake as of Thursday September 15. Residents in all 8 counties of eastern Washington will have access to these products and packs through their social worker.

Heading up the project is Concrete Goods Manager Sam Song. He recently described a story in which he had researched and found a used washing machine and dryer for a family. The importance of services like these to the lives of the family members cannot be overstated.

In 2013 Washington State Department of Health reported that housing conditions have a significant impact on the future health of the child.

The Family Impact Network aims to provide the support to families struggling to stay together by supplying them with products needed to maintain a safe and healthy lifestyle. This new project is an exciting expansion of services that will reach new populations in need.



Bill Proposed to Reduce Rates of Family Separation

Great news from Washington DC as bi-partisan house and senate representatives have proposed new child welfare legislation, that would work to reduce the number of children in foster care. Mental health and substance abuse issues can strip parents of the resources they need to build loving and healthy homes for their families; this bill proposes expanding access to family, health, and treatment services to empower families to remain united. In addition, when separation is needed, this bill will prioritize children being placed with relatives. 

According to the Ways and Means Committee press release, the Family First Prevention Services Act will strengthen families and reduce inappropriate foster care placements by:

  • Giving states flexibility to use federal foster care dollars to provide upfront, evidence-based prevention services — such as parent training and individual and family therapy — to prevent inappropriate foster care placements and improve outcomes for children and parents.
  • Ensuring more foster children are placed with families by ending federal reimbursement when states inappropriately place children in non-family settings.
  • Keeping children safe by reauthorizing the Regional Partnership Grant program that provides funding to state and local evidence-based services aimed at preventing child abuse and child neglect due to parental substance abuse.
  • Reducing the amount of time foster children wait to be adopted or placed with relatives across state lines by encouraging states to replace their outdated child placement systems with a more efficient electronic system.
  • Supporting family members who unexpectedly assume responsibility for a child by providing important caregiver resources and eliminating unnecessary paperwork.

Empire Health Foundation has been working to build a more family supportive child welfare system in our region through the work of our subsidiaries Family Impact Network and Rising Strong. We look forward to following this bill as it is introduced.

For a summary of the bill, click here.
For draft bill text, click here.

Family Impact Network Uniting Families with Uber

In the Spokane region, every year nearly 700 children are removed from their homes and placed in the care of friends, relatives, or the foster care system. The only opportunity these kids have to see their parent(s) is during scheduled visitation times at visitation centers like the Salvation Army Visitation Center in Spokane. Unfortunately, some visitation providers report that 40% of all scheduled visitations are cancelled. The high rate of cancellations and no shows to visitation times is not only fiscally costly, but most significantly they directly affect the parent-child relationship and the rate and timeliness of unification of the family. The American Academy of Pediatrics stresses the necessity of ensuring that children have frequent visits with parent(s) to prevent stretching and damaging the parent-child relationship that takes place when children are deprived of uninterrupted, day-to-day relationships with their parent(s).

Everyone has been frustrated by the rate of no shows and cancellations. Through our work with the Family Impact Network (FIN) we partnered with the Salvation Army to provide ride services at no cost to parents via Uber. The goal was to collect data that tested our hypothesis that providing individualized transportation to and from scheduled visitations would reduce the rate of no shows and cancellations. What initially was intended to be a three-month trial spanned a six-month period; during this time a total of 427 rides were provided to 25 voluntarily participating parents. At the end of the pilot program data showed that as more parents accepted Uber rides there was a decrease in the percentage of missed or cancelled appointments. Parents within the program cited the rides as a significant help in balancing the coordination of health appointments, meetings for treatment, job interviews, and visitations with their child; during the course of the program one parent interviewed was able to transition to home visits. We can only imagine the heartbreaking choice some of these parents are faced with in choosing between child visitation or a health appointment or job interview. If we were able to re-program dollars that were spent on missed visits to increase transportation options, that would be a win for everyone.

Empire Health Foundation is proud to have subsidize this pilot that is demonstrating an innovative approach to solving a pressing need for our most vulnerable families.

"Rising Strong" with Community Partners

On May 4-5th, Catholic Charities and the Empire Health Foundation hosted a group of distinguished partners for a work session and tour of the Holy Names campus that will be the home of the new Rising Strong program, as well as hundreds of new units of affordable family and senior housing.

Rising Strong will provide a safe alternative for families at risk of separation due to neglect stemming from parental alcohol and substance abuse. It will offer treatment services for parents, along with housing and wraparound support for the whole family. By keeping the family together with supervision and services, trauma is reduced for children and parents are much more likely to succeed in treatment.

The group included representatives from Children’s Administration, Excelsior Youth Services, Spokane Family Court, and Children and Family Futures. Our guest of honor was Dr. Kathryn Icenhower, who shared valuable lessons learned as CEO of Shield for Families in Los Angeles. They have provided family centered treatment with housing in South Central Los Angeles for 25 years, and are both an inspiration and a mentor.

L-R: Heather Cantamessa, Shannon Selland, Jill Gresham, Annie Kurtz, Nadine Van Stone, Kathy Icenhower, Alisha Fehrenbacher, Teri Kook, Janell Grubb, Mike Yeaton, Andrew Hill

L-R: Heather Cantamessa, Shannon Selland, Jill Gresham, Annie Kurtz, Nadine Van Stone, Kathy Icenhower, Alisha Fehrenbacher, Teri Kook, Janell Grubb, Mike Yeaton, Andrew Hill

We tackled a number of key design questions and have laid out clear next steps on our path to launch. We are so lucky to have this committed and collaborative group of people at the table to shape this work!

The Holy Names property itself boasts 35 acres of spectacular wooded grounds right along the Spokane River. The main building is an 86 room convent and in excellent condition, however we expect some kid proofing will be required. It was exciting to walk through the grounds with our partners and see ideas starting to turn to solid action items through our collaborative conversations.

As Commissioner Michelle Ressa of Spokane Family Court puts it: “The children, families and community in Spokane would greatly benefit from increased options for keeping kids safe AND families together. We need more options to keep kids safe while families address the issues that led to court involvement."


Governor Inslee announces transformative changes to children’s services

Contact: Governor Inslee’s Communications Office | 360.902.4136

OLYMPIA – Gov. Jay Inslee today signed an executive order that sets in motion a transformative new structure for delivering services to the children of Washington state.

Inslee intends to work with the Legislature to create a new cabinet agency charged with overseeing the services the state provides to vulnerable children and families. Many of these services are currently administered by the state Department of Social & Health Services.

“Of all the resources we have in the state of Washington, our children are by far the most precious. But while we have entire state agencies dedicated to priorities like Natural Resources, Revenue, and Transportation, we do not have a department specifically dedicated to our children,” Inslee said. “Today, we are beginning the process to change that.”

Inslee cited growing evidence from states such as New Jersey, Tennessee, and Indiana that have created separate children’s departments and are seeing better outcomes due to the improved focus, visibility and accountability on children’s services. 

The idea to create a separate agency for child welfare was first introduced by legislators in 1988 and numerous proposals have been passed since then. In 2007, a Joint Task Force on Administration and Delivery to Services of Children and Families did an extensive review of the idea and recommended the state create a separate department.

"It's taken nearly 30 years of debate, but we're finally prioritizing the unique needs of children and youth by giving their voice a seat at the cabinet table. Bravo!" said Justice Bobbe J. Bridge (ret.), Founding President/CEO, Center for Children & Youth Justice.

Washington state made a similar move in 2007 to boost early learning by creating a Department of Early Learning. Rep. Ruth Kagi (D-Seattle), chair of the House Early Learning and Human Services Committee, said the success of DEL is one reason she’s supporting Inslee’s proposal.

“Our children and families will greatly benefit from an agency dedicated to improving outcomes for our youngest Washingtonians,” Kagi said. “I have opposed this idea for many years, but the Department of Early Learning has demonstrated how much alignment and focus on outcomes can dramatically improve both the quality of services and the efficiency of managing complex programs. I wholeheartedly support the governor’s proposal.”

Inslee’s executive order creates a Blue Ribbon Commission on the Delivery of Services to Children and Families. The Commission is tasked with sending the Legislature recommendations for the organizational structure, cost estimates for IT and capital, and measurable benchmarks for assessing the effectiveness of the new department. The Commission’s report is due November 1, 2016.

“We need crystal clear guidance moving forward to make sure we’re not just reshuffling the deck chairs but are truly making our children safer, healthier, more secure, and connected to adults who care about them,” Inslee said.

Q&As on the governor’s Executive Order: Transforming Services for Children and Families in Washington state