State employees initiate vote of no confidence in DCYF leader Ross Hunter

Washington State Department of Children, Youth and Families Secretary Hunter. 

State employees have initiated a vote of no confidence in the leadership of the Washington State Department of Children, Youth & Families (DCYF). They assert that Ross Hunter, the current leader, has failed to adequately support staff, assist families, and ensure the protection of children.

The results of this no confidence vote are expected soon. Workers at DCYF are expressing their frustration with Hunter's leadership, citing issues of overwork, understaffing, and inadequate support for vulnerable children in the state.

Concerns from state leaders

Even those who initially supported Ross Hunter's appointment as the head of DCYF are now expressing doubts. Representative Tom Dent, one of the key figures behind the creation of DCYF in 2017, voiced his concerns about the current state of affairs.

"Right now, trying to lead these folks down the road he wants them to go... it isn't working," said Dent. "And as much as I like him, it's time for new leadership."

A grim record

Dent highlighted the troubling fact that three children in his district have died under the state's care in the past three years.

He also pointed to high-profile cases like that of Oakley Carlson, a two-year-old who vanished after being returned to her biological parents.


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Rep. Dent expressed frustration at the lack of concrete answers from DCYF leadership regarding these issues.

"We talk about these issues I just brought up and others, including the Oakley Carlson case... and I just don't get answers," he said. "I get 'we're working on it'... well, there are some policy issues here we need to deal with."

Trouble at Echo Glenn

Another issue that has drawn attention is the recent escape of seven juveniles from the Echo Glenn Juvenile Detention Center.

The latest Echo Glenn escape comes just a year after another escape in which authorities said five teenagers assaulted multiple staff members, locked one worker in a quiet room and stole a car.

Workers say they implored Hunter to address ongoing problems at the facility.

Mike Yestramski, who represents the union workers, detailed the challenges they face, including working 60 to 70-hour weeks and dealing with heavy caseloads in unsafe conditions. 

"Ross is very much the opposite of 'the buck stops here.' It is his responsibility, and it's very frustrating to sit in a meeting with a 'leader' and hear them just blame all their subordinates, and blame the legislature without taking any accountability for their own failures," said Yestramski.


The response

Jason Wettstein, Communications Director for the Washington State Department of Children, Youth, and Families, provided a statement to FOX 13 News:

"Secretary Hunter is unavailable for comment at this time. We acknowledge the challenge and demands of the work in child welfare and take concerns of staff seriously. Secretary Hunter has been communicating with both the union and individual employees. He will continue to engage employees on the challenges identified."

The Governor's office also issued a statement, acknowledging the challenges faced by DCYF employees. The statement noted that Secretary Hunter and DCYF leadership are actively addressing these concerns, but some of the requested solutions require legislative action, which has not been approved by the legislators:

"The secretary is personally engaged, as well as the leadership of DCYF, on the issues WFSE mentions. Several of their requests require legislative action the secretary has advocated for but legislators did not approve."