The Snohomish County Children’s Commission first met in January, 1986 after the death of foster child Brandon McDonald shook our community to action. The three-year-old died from a blow to his head by his foster father, who was disciplining him for taking popcorn from his two-year-old brother. A flurry of political energy swept through Snohomish County as child advocates wrote and picketed the county courthouse in outrage at the negligible Assault 2 charge filed against the boy’s killer.
Meanwhile, proponents of parent’s rights were preparing to defend their belief in corporal punishment at home and supported the County Prosecutor’s decision not to pursue a greater charge. When an autopsy revealed the toddler had broken bones in various stages of healing his caretakers reluctantly admitted to disciplining the child regularly with a wooden cutting board nearly an inch thick.
In the end, the court ruled Brandon’s death an “unfortunate consequence of overzealous discipline,” but ultimately determined the boy did not die as a result of a crime.
Although tragic, Brandon’s death was not in vain. He left a legal legacy that advanced Washington State’s abuse and neglect laws despite seemingly overwhelming opposition from the house and senate. Nevertheless, Governor Boothe Gardner signed SB 4814 into law, which restricted the use of physical force against minors to what was “reasonable and moderate.”
This bill essentially prohibited “throwing, kicking, burning or cutting a child; striking a child with a closed fist; shaking a child under three; interfering with a child’s breathing; threatening a child with a deadly weapon; or doing any other act that is likely to cause and which does cause bodily harm greater than transient pain or minor temporary marks.” Although the bill iterates what seems to be common sense today, it was progressive 20 years ago and served as a landmark that made way for future child protection legislation in Washington State.
Several months later, Snohomish County again found itself at the center of national media attention when another child was killed: a three-year-old Everett boy, Eli Creekmore, died when his small intestine ruptured after being kicked in the stomach by his father. County Executive Willis Tucker called for the Children’s Commission to investigate the death. This led Governor Gardner to convene an independent committee to review the Creekmore incident with an eye toward what went wrong with the responsiveness of the state system to children in peril.
In Eli’s case, his father was charged with second-degree manslaughter, and was held on $100,000 bail; however, at the time of his arrest for his son’s death, the man was already facing two charges of simple assault against Eli from the year prior. The Seattle P-I reported the toddler’s grandparents had tried for months to persuade Child Protective Services to remove him from his father’s custody, but weren’t allowed to speak to the court because grandparents had no legal standing.
In response to a Children’s Commission request made via the Snohomish County Council, Governor Gardner appointed a special panel of outside investigators to look into the child’s death. From a prepared statement, the Governor explained, “[An] outside review by qualified experts can only help us. The death of any child is a tragedy, but particularly so if there are steps that could be taken to prevent that death. We want to be absolutely certain that we’re doing everything in our power to prevent this from happening again.”
It was with these same sentiments that the Snohomish County Children’s Commission came into being. From senseless deaths came purpose. At the time of its formation, the Snohomish County Children’s Commission was the only group in Snohomish County mandated to advocate by the County Council; it was also the very first Children’s Commission formed in Washington State.
After more than 20 years of advocacy and serving as a model for children’s commissions springing up across the state, the Snohomish County Children’s Commission remains dedicated to responding to the needs of children.
As Brandon and Eli’s legacy, the commission’s charge is fitting: “We value every child.”
Led by Councilman Bruce Agnew, Snohomish County responded to a request for proposals from the Northwest Area Foundation to address barriers to service for children. Although the grant was not funded, the application solidified the need for a structure to address the needs of children in Snohomish County.
Three-year-old foster child Brandon McDonald was killed, shaking the community into action. An ordinance to create the Snohomish County Children’s Commission, the first children’s commission in Washington State, was enacted in July.
The first Children’s Commission met on January 8th with 15 members. Andrea Cornwall was Chair. Community Forums were held around the county in support of We Value Kids and the first logo was designed. Eli Creekmore was killed in October, solidifying community resolve to better protect our children. The first discussions and organizing principles regarding the development of a Child Advocacy Center were held. Gina Owens became the first staff member to support the Commission.
The Task Force on Teen Pregnancy brought over 100 people together, representing both ‘pro-choice’ and ‘pro-life’; their work became the Action Alliance and Kids On The Move, both housed at Deaconess. The Foster Care Review Board was established.
The Child Care Task Force began with more than 100 people meeting weekly to work on child care issues. Work of the Foster Care Subcommittee began the Continuum of Care; the first legislative forum was held; the first We Value Kids campaign included festivals and events throughout the County; the Youth on Their Own project started.
The Office of Children’s Affairs was developed to support the work of the Commission; Youth On The Move and the Teen Parent Advocacy group came out of the work of the Task Force on Teen Pregnancy; the Task Force on Child Safety emerged; the Summer Theater Project and the Youth On Their Own Conference highlighted the needs of homeless youth and led to the development of the Teen Advocate Program; Commission Education Committee became the Retention and Retrieval Committee which led an effort to retain kids in school and to retrieve those who dropped out.
The Child Care Resource and Referral Network was established as a result of the Task Force on Teen Pregnancy. With Ruth Kagi as staff, the Commission worked on the Child Care Zoning project with the state-wide Home Child Care Association.
The Retention and Retrieval Conference was held and the Quality of Life Committee started work to establish the Children’s Museum. County Council requested the Commission explore issues associated with methadone treatment and the Commission coordinated a community discussion at Everett Community College. The Early Childhood Network distributed a quarterly newsletter and coordinated educational meetings.
The Parent Resource Guide was developed; the Children’s Museum Board was established. The Division of Aging, Community Services Advisory Board and the Commission coordinated efforts on the Poverty Task Force.
The Governor’s Juvenile Justice Program Development Unit came under the Commission umbrella and supported the Youth Gangs Task Force and the Inter-Local Comprehensive Youth Gangs Program. The first Youth Forum was held in December.
The Parent Resource Guide was housed by LifeNet Health and included parenting classes and support groups. The Task Force on Child Safety tracked child injuries and emergency room services . The Kids Count press conference was held and the Children’s Museum was now hands-on and interactive. The Neutral Zone was established.
Youth forums were held around the county which began a tradition of integrating youth voice. Commissioners attended the Children’s Defense Fund Conference and began to concentrate on legislative advocacy.
The Sunshine for Children Campaign focused on promoting parent support resources and volunteerism in activities and organizations that prevent child abuse and neglect. The Task Force on Child Safety developed a video and training designed to teach youth to understand and critically analyze media messages. Training was provided to more than 250 educators who received a free video and curriculum.
The Out of School Time for Middle School Kids Committee was formed in response to the needs of middle school age children who are home alone during non-school hours. Community Team was created to help Child and Family teams effectively meet the needs of children and families most at-risk of requiring the highest degree of system involvement or out-of-home placement.
Safe Communities/Safe Schools was adopted to enhance youth accessibility to medical and mental health services; school success programs were spearheaded to reduce drop-out rates and make safe after-school programs; support services were offered to incarcerated youth, as well as safe and affordable support services to families with young children. Links and Alliances was formed to provide support to gay and lesbian youth seeking a safer environment in school and the community.
Youth and Arts was formed to share information and resources to build a community network in support of youth and the arts. Commissioners partnered with the Study Circle Project and Healthy Communities to coordinate community dialogue regarding diversity with more than 250 Snohomish County residents (including youth) participating.
Facilitated Caught In The Act awards and recognition for 11 youths being caught in the act of doing positive things for their community; completed Read 2 Me, a reading project in partnership with Denney Youth Center.
Published and distributed Family Fun in Snohomish County, a resource guide to activities and outdoor adventures; hosted a Legislator’s Luncheon attended by local and state elected officials; transferred the Read 2 Me project to Denney Youth Center.
Initiated an effort to increase community awareness of the importance to integrating the “youth voice” in developing public policies and programs; surveyed all city councils and school boards regarding youth participation in policy decisions; sponsored a local forum for discussion and analysis of inadequately addressed mental health issues of youth in detention; presented a panel discussion on the continuum of violence with youth in 5th – 12th grade, discussing their personal experiences with bullying and harassment; participated in local analysis of CPS Centralized Intake System and provided input to a statewide study; developed the new Children’s Commission logo.
Created the We Value Kids Table, an open forum for local discussion of issues pertaining to children, youth, and families; provided support for the At-Risk and Runaway Youth (ARRY) initiative and the developing Community Assessment and Resource Center (CARC) initiative.
Provided support to Mothers Against Violence in America (MAVIA) and Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson in an initiative to protect children from the harmful effects of violent video games; hosted Kids, Violence & Videos: Time for Solutions workshops by Gloria DeGaetano, a nationally known media literacy expert; supported and participated in the Snohomish County Children’s Advocacy Center Task Force, the group working to create Dawson Place; provided leadership and participated in the Regional Early Childhood Education Systems Visioning Project with the ESD 189.
Supported the We Value Kids Table with topics including: the WASL, age of consent, mental health, video violence, parent coaching, and vocational funding; continued to support the Initiative for a Game Smart Community by facilitating discussions about the harmful effects of violent videos; continued participation in the development of Dawson Place Child Advocacy Center, and assisted in the coordination of a Community-Wide Challenge Day; re-instated the Early Childhood Subcommittee to participate in the development and refining of early childhood systems in Snohomish County to align with state benchmarks to ensure that children are healthy and ready for school and a lifetime of academic success; legislative advocacy efforts provided support for the following Bills signed by Governor Gregoire: Age of Consent, Video Game Rating System, Mental Health Parity, Keep Kids Safe License Plates, Early Learning Bill, and Team Child; collaborated with the NW ESD #189 and a five county Early Learning Advisory Panel to secure more than $975,000 to support early learning systems.
A grant from United Way’s Kids Matter Vision Council funded the Study Circles pilot project that provided parent coaching by phone to 37 parents who couldn’t access one-on-one coaching due to lack of transportation or other barriers; continued work on video game violence awareness; expanded on Community-Wide Challenge Day and included multiple school districts and their stakeholders in integrating Challenge Day principles into their strategic planning. The Inter-Faith Association of Snohomish County and Everett Housing Authority also partnered to provide a second community-wide Challenge Day event; The Commission educated the community and service providers about House Bill 1058 by creating and distributing a brochure that explained the law – the consent of a minor child is not required for admission, evaluation and treatment if a parent brings their child to a mental health evaluation treatment facility or inpatient facility; Executive Reardon and the Snohomish County Council jointly signed a Children’s Commission sponsored resolution declaring February, 2006 as Have a Heart for Kids Month in Snohomish County. The month focused on bringing awareness to children’s issues through the Have A Heart for Kids Rally; continued to host the We Value Kids Breakfast at Kate’s Restaurant on Colby Avenue; continued support of Dawson Place; the Early Childhood Committee created local strategies for the County to align with the five county regional consortium and the Early Learning Advisory Panel.
The Commission hosted its second annual Have a Heart for Kids Rally with speakers: Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon, Councilman Dave Gossett, Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson, Human Services Director Janelle Sgrignoli, Children’s Commission Chair Teena Ellison, Director of Familias Unidas Winnie Corral, and a passionate youth Sam Sampson; with support from the Children’s Commission, Dawson Place celebrated its first year of operation and was on the verge of accreditation by the National Children’s Alliance; third year of Challenge Day leadership; video game violence work continues with the development of the Video Game Violence Toolkit, a Power Point presentation, and informational brochures like 10 Games to Avoid for the Holidays, which advised parents about the 10 most violent games marketed to youth and explained their ratings in detail; In May the Commission partnered with Denney Juvenile Justice Center to host the Cross-Systems 101 Training Day – attended by more than 200 parents and professionals, the day featured a community exploration and forum of the newest brain research and health studies demonstrating the link between adverse childhood experiences and long-term physical, mental, and behavioral health and included workshops by the Juvenile Court, DCFS, Cocoon House, Compass Health, Volunteers of America, and Tulalip Health and Human Services; continued hosting the We Value Kids Breakfast; the Early Learning Committee began work on an Early Learning Strategic Plan that is aligned with the Washington State Kids Matter framework; December 2007 marked the birth of the Children’s Commission We Value Kids Newsletter – the publication was distributed electronically and in print to over 1,000 people, including elected officials and youth advocates across the state.
Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon and the Snohomish County Council jointly signed a resolution declaring February 2008 as Have a Heart for Kids Month in Snohomish County, and the Commission held its’ third Have a Hear for Kids Rally which featured speakers from the Seeds of Compassion Initiative; The Community Juvenile Justice Coalition (formerly the JJ PDU), a sub-committee of the Commission, partnered with the Region 3 Secure Crisis Residential Center and the Governor’s Juvenile Justice Advisory Committee to produce a crisis resource card for law enforcement, parents and youth. The resource was distributed to 20 law enforcement precincts spread across the county, 8 family support centers, Denney Juvenile Justice Center and the Everett Association of Neighborhoods. Everett Chief of Police James Scharf wrote, “On behalf of the entire Everett Police Department your [crisis card] has been shared with the troops and is sincerely appreciated. [It’s] a great reference guide that is easy to carry and access;” In March, the Children’s Commission partnered with the Snohomish County Human Services Department Inclusion Committee to give a voice to immigrant and historically underrepresented youth; the Commission continues to receive requests for the video game violence toolkit from locales throughout the country, including school districts and youth-serving agencies in California, Utah and Indiana – it also receives regular requests for video violence presentation as word spreads across the county; The Children’s Commission also played an integral role in mobilizing Snohomish County to engage in the five-day Seeds of Compassion gathering in Seattle from April 11 to 15 conceived by his holiness the 14th Dali Lama, which was an unprecedented gathering to engage the hearts and minds of our community by highlighting the vision, science, and programs of early social, emotional and cognitive learning; the Early Learning Committee (ELC) was awarded two planning grants to enhance and strengthen the local systems and networks that support early learning in Snohomish County. It also conducted focus groups and gathered feedback from parents and families representing the diversity of the county, as well as from Family, Friend and Neighbor caregivers, school districts, early learning programs, early learning stakeholders and other community partners. After completing their Strategic Plan in June, the ELC used funds from a Foundation of Early Learning planning grant to develop a comprehensive Early Learning Business Plan for Snohomish County.