The kids are not alright: Washington’s pro-drug policies a death sentence for children

We see it daily: in the news, on our streets, and sadly in too many homes in Washington state – the tragedy of hard drug abuse and the death and despair that it causes. Despite our state spending billions of dollars trying to find shelter or treatment for people who are suffering, the problem seems to only get worse.

In 2022, there were roughly 3,000 drug-related deaths, nearly 2,000 of those deaths due to fentanyl. That’s more people dead from drug overdoses than the number of people who died during Operation Enduring Freedom, the entire population of McChord Air Force Base, or equivalent to one 9/11 terrorist attack.

As we see the mass casualties in our streets due to majority-party policies that have essentially decriminalized or gone soft on drug abuse over the last few years, there is a more sinister and equally deadly drug policy that is less visible. It is happening behind closed doors in many homes and leaving children, often babies and toddlers, defenseless against parents who have chosen a life of drug abuse.

The Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF), bolstered by Democrat legislation, has pushed radical policies that prioritize keeping kids in homes filled with hard drugs over out-of-home placements. The passage of the Keeping Families Together Act in 2021 has made removing kids from these dangerous situations nearly impossible. I’ve heard social workers, advocates, and even judges refer to it as the “dead baby” bill.

DCYF’s position is that it is traumatic to remove kids from their biological parents, and fentanyl in the home isn’t necessarily unsafe. DCYF is wrong; not only is it unsafe, but it is downright deadly.

report from the state Office of the Family and Children’s Ombuds, which specifically looks at deaths and near deaths of children under (DCYF) supervision, found there were 85 child deaths and 62 near fatalities in 2022. These numbers will only get worse and have skyrocketed from just a handful of years ago when there were only four child fatalities.

I was heartbroken to learn about the recent fentanyl overdoses of three babies in Everett, including a 13-month-old who did not survive. One infant did survive an overdose and was then shockingly released back into that same dangerous home.

I spoke out when we learned about the vicious murder of 4-year-old Ariel Garcia. Family members told investigators the little boy’s mother became paranoid and violent when using meth. His grandmother was awarded an emergency guardianship, but the mother took off with the boy and allegedly stabbed him multiple times. She is now charged with murder.

As a dad of four, I love my kids and would do anything to keep them safe. Parents on hard drugs like meth, heroin, or fentanyl can only think about getting the next fix. They simply cannot care for a child while under the influence of hard drugs. 

Every night I come home from the Legislature, I must look at myself in the mirror and reflect upon the votes I have taken and my decisions. Nothing has kept me awake at night like the needless and senseless deaths of young children – many of which could have been prevented. There is simply no possible way I could ever move on from this issue until I see those child fatalities plummet.

Almost everyone who reads this knows a friend or family member who has suffered or lost their life to drug addiction – and I’m no different. While we must continue to support increasing access to addiction services, we must absolutely prioritize the safety of children – our most vulnerable population – above all else.

I proposed a bill last session that would have cleared the way for courts to prioritize a child’s life over the parent’s drug use when there are hard drugs like meth, heroin, or fentanyl in the home. House Bill 2233 would have required DCYF to remove children from homes with hard drugs while still giving parents an avenue to seek treatment or demonstrate their ability to provide a safe home. It was ignored by the Democrat majority, who passed a watered-down version of my bill that I fear won’t do enough to save kids.  

In the next session, I will introduce and fight for legislation to update child endangerment laws. It is the responsibility of the Legislature, our state agencies, and all Washingtonians to look out for our children and keep them safe.

We must turn back from radical pro-drug abuse ideologies and laws that are devoid of accountability and personal responsibility, putting innocent people at risk. It is not love and compassion to watch people kill themselves or their kids with hard drugs.

State Representative Travis Couture, 35th Legislative District
404 John L. O'Brien Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
(360) 786-7902 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000