Rep. Couture: DCYF opposition to my bill protecting kids from fentanyl is outrageous

Rep. Travis Couture says the position of the Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) on House Bill 2233 is one of the driving reasons Washington state is seeing an increase in the number of children under state care dying or nearly dying from exposure to fentanyl or other illicit drugs.

Couture, R-Allyn, prefiled House Bill 2233 after a year where Washington state has seen an unacceptable increase in fentanyl/meth exposure deaths involving kids – many under state care.

The most recent case came just weeks ago when a 4-year-old Kennewick girl died from accidental fentanyl exposure in a motel room while her parents were allegedly doing drugs in the bathroom. According to court records, the little girl swallowed at least two fentanyl pills while another was found by doctors lodged up her nose. In that case, the father was under a no-contact order. This was the fourth time he had violated the order. Both parents now face charges for the girl’s death.

Last year, a Tacoma mother who admitted to using meth was charged in the torture and murder of her 3-year-old son.

According to court records obtained by KOMO News, the little boy was found to have multiple fresh bruises on his face, obvious burn marks, multiple injuries to his chest, side, legs, and arms consistent with being struck by an object, and small marks on his chest that appeared to come from a taser.

The little boy had been in foster care since he was 10 months old until being returned to his mother 6 months before his death. Police found a one-year-old sibling sitting next to the dead boy’s body when they arrived.

In Everett, a grandmother who fought fiercely to protect her granddaughter from her fentanyl-using daughter saw her worst nightmares realized last year when the little girl died in a motel room from suspected fentanyl exposure. The death came after the grandmother called child protective services (CPS) multiple times to have the child removed from the dangerous environment.

Couture’s bill would do the following:

  • Require immediate removal of children from caretakers using illegal substances, including fentanyl, by classifying the presence of those drugs as “imminent harm”;
  • Create additional training and fentanyl-specific risk assessment tools for caseworkers investigating abuse; and
  • Provide caseworkers with fentanyl test-strips to confirm the presence of fentanyl in the home.

In an interview with The Center Square regarding Couture’s bill, a DCYF spokesperson offered the following statement:

“This bill runs counter to our commitment to safely reduce the number of children and youth in out of home care. Children should not be removed from the home just because a parent has a substance use disorder or has used illicit drugs.  Fentanyl is extremely dangerous for young children. But children should only be removed if a parent’s use of fentanyl is creating a risk that the child may be exposed to this extremely dangerous drug.”

“This statement from DCYF regarding my bill is absolutely outrageous,” said Couture. “Just looking at the details of the three cases I’ve highlighted, it is clear that their philosophy is failing to protect children. The position of DCYF to prioritize keeping children in homes of parents using hard drugs they do not have a prescription for should outrage every one of us.”

The number of deaths involving children who either were or had been recently under the supervision of DCYF is shockingly high. A recently published report from the state Office of the Family and Children’s Ombuds found 85 child deaths and 62 near fatalities with over a quarter (22) of those deaths and more than half (34) of the near fatalities involving accidental ingestion or overdose – 67% involving fentanyl.

A recent report from DCYF that looked at data for the first quarter of 2023 showed eight incidents of children nearly dying from ingesting fentanyl or opioids.

“The position DCYF stated regarding my bill is divorced from reality and puts kids in our state at terrible risk,” said Couture. “I call on DCYF and my fellow lawmakers to act accordingly and to prioritize the safety of Washington children before we see another 100 deaths due to kids being exposed to illegal drugs.”

###

Washington State House Republican Communications
houserepublicans.wa.gov