- Associated Press - Thursday, February 18, 2016

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) - Gov. Jay Inslee wants to create a new state agency to deliver services to vulnerable children and families, and he signed an executive order Thursday to start the process.

Surrounded by children, Inslee signed the order creating the “Blue Ribbon Commission on the Delivery of Services to Children and Families.” The commission must, by Nov. 1, send the Legislature recommendations for the structure, cost estimates and outline of how a new agency could work effectively.

“Our goals are clear,” he said. “We need greater accountability, we need greater visibility of children’s issues, we need fewer barriers to improve service, and we need a direct line to me as governor on how we’re going to make our children safer, healthier, more secure and more connected to their communities.”

The services that Inslee wants the new agency to handle currently fall under the responsibilities of the Department of Social & Health Services. But Inslee said that it was important to have an agency that focuses directly on children services. He cited other states like New Jersey, Tennessee and Indiana that have created separate departments for children.

Inslee said that the idea to break off this section from DSHS is not a sign of a lack of confidence in the agency.

“When you have a department that is focused on this, you bring attention, you bring resources, you bring coordination, you bring services,” he said.

But Republican Seattle Port Commissioner Bill Bryant, who is running against Inslee this year, said the creation of the commission “isn’t leadership, it’s punting.”

“Gov. Inslee is focused on political theater rather than on setting priorities, providing direction to DSHS and then holding bureaucrats accountable,” he wrote in an email.

Rep. Ruth Kagi, chairwoman of the House Early Learning & Human Services Committee, noted that the idea of a separate department has been discussed in the Legislature for many years, and that previously she had been opposed to the idea. But she said that the progress of the Department of Early Learning, which was created in 2007, has changed her mind.

She said that a new agency would broaden that experience “so we’re not just looking at early learning opportunities, we’re trying to connect those children and families to the other systems they’re already involved with.”

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